The World Evolves Around You / My Story About The Hmong In Minnesota In This Sunday’s Star Tribune

On a sunny Saturday in the summer of 2010, I walked a few blocks from my apartment in Minneapolis to the Loring Park Art Fair. Dozens of exhibitors showed their sculptures, paintings, and more to the scores of neighborhood folks walking about.

One exhibitor’s work caught my eye. He displayed his black and white photographs of female nudes. Set in nature, his models posed to mimic or reflect their surroundings. The 50-something man with a white ponytail introduced his work to me as expressions of feminine power. 

The water eventually wears away the mountain, he said. That’s feminine power. 

Dance instructor shown in the right photo on my book cover

Two-three months later, I was in China and walking into my yoga class. A change of schedule (or more likely, me misreading it) meant I walked into the wrong class. 

“Balance class,” said one middle-aged woman who spoke some English. Oh okay. Still sounded good to me. Let’s give it a try. 

Soon the young female instructor began–not by demonstrating a pose, but by turning on the most dainty, sparkly music and then moving to it with dainty, lighter-than-air movements.

I looked around at the other women for a second before shrugging my shoulders and trying out some of these smooth, limp-wristed motions.

Then I felt something. A real presence of each movement and richness of each moment. Was this what the artist back in Minneapolis was talking about? Was this feminine power?   

I’d attend this class again. I’d also remember what the artist had said about how America under-appreciates this power. And I began to notice around me in China the ways masculinity and femininity shown in this country–and how they contrasted with American expressions…


I shared this story with a friend over coffee last Sunday morning. She was interested in my book about my time in China–how it came about and how I came up with the material.

I explained how circumstances (the art fair, me accidentally taking the feminine dance class, me observing how the Chinese expressed themselves) led to my story and essay above. I did the writing, but life placed the experiences on my path, allowing the story to gather and the lesson to be revealed.

This recognition of the recipe for several of my stories has reminded me of something a friend of mine said a month or so back:

Life doesn’t revolve around you. It evolves around you.

Here’s how I interpreted this: We can’t just sit around and expect life’s work to get done around us. Rather, if I move, opportunities and scenarios are put forth on my path like pieces to a puzzle. (The puzzles for me are my articles and such. For others, it’s what you like to put together: work projects, a summer sports league, a vacation, a holiday event, or whatever your interest.)

Life evolves (or forms or molds or flows) about us. We have to move to make it work, and we have to see the opportunities and advantageous circumstances (the pieces to the puzzle) to put our work together.

My China book is a work I share on this website. A work I’m pleased to announce today is the publication of my story about the Hmong in Minnesota scheduled for this Sunday’s (December 11) Minneapolis Star Tribune. It will be the cover story of the Opinion section of the newspaper (or online).

The sources for this story I happened to bump into, the others introduced to me by colleagues, and then segments of the story that resulted from people’s tips: all these pieces came together–life evolved around me–as I worked on the Hmong’s remarkable story of their blending and making a home in my home state. Many months in the making, I look forward to sharing it with you. For now, here are two teaser photos from the story:

Hmong colleagues and I ready for game day.
A mural in Walnut Grove, MN symbolizing (in a town that symbolizes) the coming together of these two peoples.

Finally, whatever projects you’re working on, I hope you can acknowledge and use to your advantage the role life plays to help them form.


12/12/2016: Here is the story from yesterday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune:

What say you?