Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Symptoms of Burnot Include

 I was going to spend a productive day packing and getting ready for China on Friday, and the only thing I've really done so far today is shower and send a few emails.  And check my new Twitter account obsessively.

I had to write a biography of myself for this conference that was 600 words or less, so when I finished this version I thought, I'm doing fine.  Until I checked the email again.

 Turns out no one wants to know that much about me.  They wanted 600 characters or less.

Here's the long version that I'm going to whittle down for the conference.  I'll even add a few dull details to make it more conference-apropos.

I was born and raised in New York City, and surrounded myself with almost every kind of book within my reach.  Frequent trips to the library were a staple of my childhood.

I had the almost impossibly good fortune of attending a school whose core philosophy was learning for learning's sake from the age of six until seventeen.  There were no grades, only written evaluations, and starting in high school we could form our own curriculum based on our own interests and ambitions.

The founder and longtime headmaster of this school, Stanley, recently went gently into that good night.  As I reflect on my own story, I will always be indebted to his bold vision of education and the tenacity with which he clung to it.  I am who I am because the school Stanley built taught me to have the courage to be the person I want to be right now.

I was monolingual until I took Latin in sixth grade, and then switched to Spanish in middle school and and added Chinese and French in high school.  I've stuck with Chinese as an East Asian Studies major at college, and just returned from a year abroad in Taiwan.  As a child people asked me if I spoke Spanish at home and if I frequently visited my grandparents in Puerto Rico because of my last name and my heritage.

These questions always befuddled me: I was American and I spoke English, as did both of my parents and their parents.  I didn't understand how the color of my skin determined an allegiance to a particular language, so I tried as many languages on for size as I could.

As I grew older and continued to ask bigger and more provoking questions about myself, I've discovered that the only way to learn anything about yourself worth knowing is not studying your own history, or 'discovering your roots', as some call it.  You must immerse yourself in the life of a stranger until you understand that he is you, even the parts of him you can't stand.  To know yourself is to know others, and vice versa.


  1. I think your life is fascinating. I don't know how you are going to put all of this in 600 characters or less. Wow.

  2. *Blushes furiously*. You are really too kind, Michael.

  3. Fascinating life story! People do have the tendency to label or brand someone based on physical attributes alone. A sad fact but true. I wasn't born here in the US, and when I came, I didn't have too hard of a time adapting to the language and culture. I can speak English pretty well for a foreigner, but people take a look at me and assume I can't. Then they act surprise when I open my mouth. Sometimes it's funny, sometimes not so much.

    Have a fun trip! And it is very nice to meet you. ;)

  4. Why thank you Cherie! It is very nice to meet you too!

  5. I think it's just amazing how many languages you know. I haven't even mastered the English language yet. :P

  6. *blushes deep red* *shuffles awkwardly* *smiles* Thank you!

  7. Awesome Bio!

    How are you doing? We never did chat when you tried to contact me. :-(