My life-long attraction to the “exotic” began when Miss Trosen, my 5th grade teacher, introduced our class to the topic of evolution, complete with glossy illustrations of lumbering Neanderthals in hot pursuit of a woolly mammoth. This pivotal event, coi...
My life-long attraction to the “exotic” began when Miss Trosen, my 5th grade teacher, introduced our class to the topic of evolution, complete with glossy illustrations of lumbering Neanderthals in hot pursuit of a woolly mammoth. This pivotal event, coincident with the receipt of my next-door neighbors’ moldering stack of National Geographics, was all I needed to plot my future. For several years, I envisioned myself scaling Egyptian pyramids and hacking my way through the Amazon until realizing I’d be better off starting small, with local excursions. To that end, at age fifteen, I won parental approval to work as a teen model for the May Company, a large department store a mere three miles from my high school, but within view of the distant shores of beckoning adulthood. Emboldened, I lobbied for a chance to cruise Hollywood Boulevard on Saturday nights and audition to dance as a Gazzarri’s “go-go girl” on the Sunset Strip. Only to be denied permission for both in no uncertain terms. As a last-ditch attempt, I hatched the preposterous idea of finishing high school at a Swiss boarding school. But, that, too, fell on totally deaf ears.
My strivings took an academic turn as soon as I completed my first Anthropology class at UC Berkeley. Peoples and places I’d never heard of—the Tiwi of Southern Australia, the Trobriand Islanders of Polynesia and others—revealed how each life, each culture possesses an integrity of its own, as well as the keys to universal human truths. They and Anthropology called to me. Still eager to jump outside my cultural comfort zone, I joined my first true love, an archaeologist, on a six-month excavation in the Peruvian altiplano. Never did it dawn on me that our home-to-be might lack electricity and that the hair dryer I’d packed was nothing but dead weight. By the time I conducted my own Ph.D. research in a remote Maya Mam village in Guatemala years later, I was a far more seasoned and sobered fieldworker—traveling with only bare bone provisions, no hair dryer in tow.
Throughout my undergraduate studies at UC Berkeley, graduate studies at Harvard University and UCLA, and early professional assignments, I repeatedly ventured into unknown territory—from interning at a San Francisco half-way house for paroled San Quentin felons to teaming with Nader’s Raiders in Washington, D.C. to consulting on six major-release Hollywood films. I conducted cross-cultural marketing research for an Italian distillery famous for its “aperitvo digestif.” And, closer to home, hired on with an organizational development firm consulting to a Hughes Aircraft engineering division.
Think of these eclectic postings as “urban anthropology.” I do. A fertile training ground for what was to come. My seamless, if sometimes unorthodox career path has lead me to my current incarnation as a nonfiction book author and a corporate historian—vocations that fit me to a tee and variously tap my expertise as an anthropologist, researcher, interviewer, writer and photographer. Life's unplanned detours have also inspired me to reach out to breast cancer patients and professionals across the United States as a patient ambassador and to teach English to Maya university students as a volunteer in Guatemala. But no matter where I am—from the far-flung corners of the globe to my own neighborhood—what I have come to value above all is that "exotic," unexpected wonder is everywhere, right before my very eyes.