Biography

My life-long attraction to the “exotic” began when Miss Trosen, my fifth-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, in combination with the receipt of a moldering cache of National Geographics from my next-door neighbors’ garage, was all I needed to plot my future wanderings. For several years I envisioned myself scaling Egyptian pyramids and hacking my way through the Amazon jungle until realizing I’d be better off starting small, with local excursions. To begin, 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 on the distant shores of beckoning adulthood. Intent on extending my boundaries, I made bold cases for cruising Hollywood Boulevard on Saturday nights and accepting a dance audition at Gazzarri’s, a go-go club on Los Angeles’ Sunset Blvd., only to be denied permission for both in no uncertain terms. Switching tactics, I half-heartedly floated the idea of attending a Swiss boarding school. But that, too, fell on totally deaf ears.

My strivings found a more down-to-earth direction 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 keys to universal human truths. They and Anthropology called to me. Eager to step outside my cultural comfort zone, I jumped at the chance to join my first true love, an archaeologist, on a year-long 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 insisted on packing was little more than dead weight. By the time I conducted my own Ph.D. research in a remote Maya Mam village in Guatemala four years later, I was a far more seasoned and sobered fieldworker—traveling with only bare bone provisions, no hair dryer in sight.

Throughout my undergraduate studies at UC Berkeley, graduate work at Harvard University and UCLA, and early professional years, I repeatedly ventured into unknown territory—from interning at a San Francisco half-way house for paroled San Quentin felons to joining Nader’s Raiders in Washington, D.C. to consulting on six major-release Hollywood films. I conducted cross-cultural marketing research for Fratelli Branca, Sp.A., an Italian distillery famous for its “aperitvo digestif” and, closer to home, I joined an organizational development team studying an engineering division at Hughes Aircraft.

Think of these diverse assignments as “urban anthropology.” I do. But they also were a training ground for what was to come. My seamless, if sometimes unorthodox career path has lead me to my present 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 throughout the United States as a health ambassador and to return to Guatemala as a volunteer to teach Maya university students English. But no matter where—be it the far-flung corners of the globe or my own neighborhood—what I have come to value above all is the “exotic,” unexpected wonder that is right before my very eyes.