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This is how we cognize

Human cognition is a regular phrase in our household because Mike is a cultural anthropologist who studies human cognition for work (and fun, what?). Living in China we had umpteen discussions about cultural differences and how humans makes sense of the world and how Eastern vs. Western ways of cognition were different. We also happened to fall in love with Chinese culture, and strove to understand the new ways of thinking in which we were steeped, and that continues today even though we are far away.

But distinct from being some kind of mental game that makes us pat ourselves on the back for how culturally sensitive, open, and adapted we are (we are not, we were frustrated and clueless more times than we were at ease and accepting), I have found that cultural literacy is not only:

A. a real thing, not some new-fangled modern idea to irritate those who don't believe in its importance
B. Important and relevant to so many little things we might overlook without that literacy

I think the…
Recent posts

Goodbye My Friend and Inspiration

Today I discovered someone who has influenced my life immensely has died. We don't have close mutual friends so I can see how no one would have known to inform me. But that doesn't mean he wasn't important to me and that he didn't impact my life dramatically. It mostly means he was so humble and so special to so many people it would probably have been impossible to inform all the people whose lives he touched. It happened earlier this year while we were in China, in April, about a month before my own life began to melt down.

I am really devastated that I didn't know and had to find out through a Google search. I had just written to him a few days ago inviting him to the Pergolesi Magnificat in which I'll be singing in a couple weeks. I was so excited to tell him we were back in Michigan and we could resume our (too infrequent in recent years) visits consisting of hours sitting, chatting, drinking, and eating.

It was unusual for him to not respond to an invita…

The Milans in My Life

Today marks the 9th anniversary of my father's death. 5:31pm. I held his hand as his heart stopped and he took his last breath.

I have a confession to make: that moment changed me, because of course it did. But it catapulted me into 9 years of recurring panic. The inability to sleep at night, invaded by thoughts of death. Panic simply driving around because it might end in a crash. Panic especially during my pregnancies and births and tending for tiny babies.

My thoughts were not ruminations I indulged or invited as much as they were invasions - terrifying thoughts that would rob me of lovely moments, peaceful moments, or utterly mundane moments. Moments where I should be restful could become unbearable when I was visited by these thoughts.

Afraid of death. Afraid to die.

But two events changed that. The first was moving to China - I felt like that was a journey I took with my father. He was an immigrant, a world traveler, an intrepid explorer. I often imagined I was living the k…

Home

I never imagined when I landed in China one year ago I would feel like this knowing I cannot go back, at least not any time soon.
For a variety of reasons – we will not be completing our 3 years in China and are moving back…well, now. I’m devastated to be perfectly honest. But the last two months have been…beyond what words can really describe. Intensely scary and unnerving, testing the limits of my sanity and self-worth. It’s important that we come back.

I think some people would be overjoyed to come back because of top-notch medical care and Costco. I don’t really understand why I’m not, despite the fact I know it’s the right thing to do. I don’t think it’s just the exhaustion having sucked my ability to feel.
We made a home and a life in China. I was starting a new career. I was love-hating every single crazy minute there. I was making good friends. I was just learning enough Mandarin to surprise people. And for better or worse, I was reminded often of how incredible it was to be…

My First Mother’s Day in China

I know a lot of people are celebrating Mother’s Day milestones – and I’ll hop on the bandwagon and highlight the fact I am celebrating my first Mother’s Day in China. Solo-mothering, in fact. Mike has a number of very important work and family obligations in the US and I appreciate his being the family ambassador.

Being a mother of three in China, as a foreigner (I don’t really identify with the word expat, more on that some other time, perhaps) is no small task. I’m not even gonna humblebrag about it. It’s just really, really difficult and I’m making it work as best as I can. 
So. I’m going to celebrate some pretty great Mothering in China milestones, and pat myself on the back. And while I know I cannot attribute my kids' success 100% to my and Mike's parenting, (sometimes I think they are great in spite of it!) because I know they are innately wonderful, capable people who are doing so much of this hard work on their own...I feel proud and my efforts have been well worth …

I'm proud of myself

My journey to China has been a deepening into paradox. Attaining a level of comfort with the total unknown. Feeling that any decision is dramatically wrong, or potentially awesome, simultaneously, is a state to which I have had to completely surrender.

And let me be clear...I'm not being poetic. I think this experience could really break someone who was not willing to bend. I have felt the surface cracking many a time and had to just yield, and it's all turned out fine, so far.

 I will admit, the day a Chinese woman asked me if I was Chinese was gratifying.

So, as I reflect on how I find myself here in China and how it is both so absurd and wonderful all at the same time, I vacillate between feeling that I have lost so much (leaving behind my friends and family, the equity I have put into various career endeavors..singing and teaching voice, and working as a finance professor and researcher) and gained more than I could have ever imagined and have yet to discover.

I’m reminde…

Show and tell

For show and tell she wanted to take her pink purse.
I hate to admit I cringed a tiny bit at her choice, thinking, Why not the tongue drum? Something more…show and tell-y?
Trying my best to be the interested and supportive mom, “Oh that’s a good idea. Why do you want to take your pink purse?” (Because we are supposed to help the kids think through what they might say before they end up in front of the class in shock.)

“Because I love how it is shiny and sparkles!”

“What else do you want to tell your class about it?”

“I don’t want to tell you.”

Fair enough. I pack up the conversation and focus on the pasta Bolognese we are all enjoying. It is pretty good. I added bacon…because Hormel is a close approximation to pancetta when you live in China. (I know, I know there is pork belly everywhere, but I just don't know if it's the same...)
Later after the kids had read themselves to sleep and Mike went to his office for his nightly hours of meetings with the United States, I actually…