As his request for the spring fund raiser Chris asked me to talk a little bit about myself. So, here goes.
I was born in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1978. I grew up in the nearby suburb of Port Moody. My dad is a professor at Simon Fraser University and my mom was originally trained as a printmaker (she's now a grant facilitator, after a stint as a prop coordinator for movies).
Dad studies drugs and behavior. In addition to his academic work, he's always been very active in drug policy reform. I like to say that I was raised on Soros formula. Dad and his brother Dale, a philosophy professor, have become pretty well-known media personalities in greater Vancouver. Dad handles most of the B.C. Skeptics-related interviews and Dale talks about civil liberties.
I'm one of two kids. My brother, Loren, is three years younger than me. Loren is finishing up his undergraduate degree in communications.
One of the more unusual things about my childhood was that I started attending classes at Simon Fraser when I was 12. I took my first university philosophy course the summer I turned 13. It was an introductory survey course taught at the downtown Vancouver campus. I was hooked.
I've been involved with political campaigns since I was 16. I was an active member of the New Democratic Party throughout high school. One of my favorite memories from that period was my drives with George in his orange Volvo. George was the oldest guy working on the campaign. He was in his mid-seventies, a retired blue collar worker and trade unionist. He drove a beat-up orange Volvo. The folks at the campaign office would fill up the car with lawn signs and send the two of us out to put up signs. I would navigate. As we drove, George would tell me about politics and unions and the various struggles that he'd been through in his career as an organizer.
I kept going to high school while I was studying part-time at SFU. I was an avid member of my high school debate team. After I graduated from high school, I enrolled at SFU on a full scholarship. At first I was pre-med. I majored in psychology and continued to take as many philosophy courses as I could. I also volunteered at the treatment information project at AIDS Vancouver, helping clients research their medical options. This was just on the cusp of the protease inhibitor revolution, so it was an exciting time to be helping out.
I also got a job at Starbucks, or as I told people, I started dealing to support my habit. Between the free pound of coffee a week and unlimited espresso drinks on my shifts, I'm sure they lost money on me. On one of my shifts a woman came in and handed me a sheet of paper with festooned with hearts, flowers, and multiple fonts. It took me a second to figure out that this was a resume, specifically the resume of future FOX pundit Rachel Marsden.
After I graduated, I moved to Montreal to be closer to Darcy (DJA). We had met online at Salon Table Talk, back in the glory days of free TT. I was working as a technical writer, writing manual on occupational health and safety. Darcy got a scholarship to New England Conservatory in Boston. By that point, I had decided that I wanted to study with Daniel Dennett at Tufts in nearby Medford. So, we packed up the U-Haul and moved to Boston. I got a job writing technical manuals for bond trading software. I got accepted to the M.A. program at Tufts and enrolled in the spring.
Grad school at Tufts was wonderful. I went in thinking that philosophy was just a brief conceptual boot camp. I needed to get clear on certain methodological questions before I could pursue my MD/PhD. I ended up applying to philosophy PhD programs instead. Like most philosophy grad students, I was deeply ambivalent about the field. I didn't like the slick metaphysics that was fashionable at the time. I felt like too many interesting and difficult problems were being ignored because they weren't "philosophical" enough. I knew that there were only one or two programs in the country that I was interested in. By this time, I was so in love with New York that I really couldn't envision a life anywhere else.
After 9/11, I trained as an EMT. I figured it would be a good way to earn extra money while I did my philosophy PhD. Things didn't turn out the way I planned. After we graduated from our respective programs, DJA and I moved to New York. Darcy wanted to start a big band. I was working on my PhD applications. As I was training for the EMT licensing physical, I started getting work as a medical writer through an old friend from Table Talk who had been in the business for a few years.
The blackout was my initiation to life as a New Yorker. Darcy and I had signed a lease in Brooklyn, but we were still living in Boston. I was commuting to New York on the $10 Chinatown bus for job interviews. When the lights went out, I'd just spent all my cash for my ticket home and some potstickers. My bus was canceled. I was stuck in Manhattan in a suit and 3-inch heels. I had only the vaguest idea of where my apartment might be. So, I decided to just keep walking over the bridge in the general direction of Brooklyn. Eventually I noticed that all the white people on the bridge were trudging along in the gathering darkness, but everyone else was hitching rides on the trucks that were picking up strangers in the next lane. So, I jumped on the back of a truck with a bunch of other New Yorkers and got a ride most of the way home. Luckily, my cellphone batteries lasted long enough for me to find my way back to my place by the light of my LCD screen.
A few weeks later we moved for real. Suddenly, I was making far more as a part-time pharmaceutical copywriter than I could hope to make as a full-time EMT in New York. I eventually got an agency job writing copy for big brands like Epi-Pen. I hated it. I couldn't wait to escape the corporate world and start grad school. I had an informal invitation to study with my philosophical hero at Columbia, but the philosophy department slashed its entering class by 2/3 that year and my guy was already supervising several grad students, so I didn't make the cut.
It was about this time that I started to blog. I thought Majikthise was going to be an academic philosophy blog with a little politics on the side. Eventually, the politics totally eclipsed the philosophy. I found the blog publishing schedule wasn't conducive to philosophical writing. Besides, it was a very exciting time politically. Actually, it was more of a terrifying and depressing time, but you know what I mean.
Once I was out of the academic world, I was able to admit to myself that I didn't feel as passionate about philosophy as I did about politics. To my surprise, I found that I could make a living as a freelance copywriter and still have plenty of time for blogging.
At that point, I was very anxious because, for the first time since kindergarten, I didn't have a clear mission in life.
Then Hurricane Katrina changed everything. New Orleans was still 80% under water when I got an email from a blogger who had somehow gotten funding for a blogger reporting team to go to New Orleans. Our mission was two-fold, reporting from the scene and distributing a huge number of donated frequent flier miles to evacuees in Baton Rouge. I said I would go, even though it meant quitting the lucrative long-term assignment I'd landed on Madison Avenue. It turned out my boss had been a stringer before he joined the corporate world. He still missed it. It was going to be miserable and scary and low-paid and insecure, he said. He asked me whether I really wanted this life. I suddenly knew that I did.
After I got back from New Orleans, I started doing more blog-based reporting projects. The next month I went to Austin to cover Tom DeLay's first court appearance. I was still doing some sporadic pharma work to pay the bills--but I could still get away to cover exciting stories like the Lamont/Lieberman primary. I also started writing for AlterNet and selling photographs. By the time the 2006 mid-term elections rolled around, I was determined to quit pharma cold turkey. It was time to find out whether I could hack it as a full-time journalist. I had written my last reprint carrier.