Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The dream-following radio show has debuted!

WELLINGTON—"LIVE from Mongolia" is now a radio show! And since I'm broadcasting from New Zealand, I'll give you one chance to guess the title. Correct: "LIVE from New Zealand!"

The show, like the book, is about people who pursue their wildest dreams. There were the two self-described "morons" who cycled from one Mongolian city named "Moron" to another Mongolian city named "Moron", and then wrote a book about it. There was Zoë Tryon, the member of British royal society who left all that wealth behind to live in a roach-infested hut in the Amazon to follow her dream to save the Amazon. And there was the failure of a dream—renowned poet Hinemoana Baker's very personal story, which aired just last night. And many more stories. 

If you'd like regular updates about the show, follow our Facebook page @LIVEfromMongolia. There, you'll find podcasts (for instance, although the show about Hinemoana's failed dream aired last night, the podcast will only be released today, so best to tune into the Facebook page if you want an easy link to the download. 

Finally, until December 15th, Goodreads is doing a giveaway for the book. Click the link below to win one of three signed copies, just in time for the holidays! Happy gifting (or receiving, if ya keep it!).

'LIVE from Mongolia!' is the true story of a dream followed, warts and all. Published by Beaufort Books NYC. Available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and in some int'l bookstores. 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Live from Mongolia by Patricia Sexton

Live from Mongolia

by Patricia Sexton

Giveaway ends December 15, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Grandma Maggie

LIVE from Mongolia has been on the road. My daughter Jade and I have been traveling in the US. We'd planned to go on a road trip, but ended up spending our time in America close to my family's home in Cincinnati, so that we could say goodbye to one extraordinary 90-year-old woman.

CINCINNATI, OH —Up until last week, it had been only once in my nearly-forty years that I thought the world had completely changed after someone's death. That was in 2009, and the world still feels different, somehow not-quite-right after that loss. Last Tuesday, Grandma Maggie died. She was ninety years old, and although dying at ninety isn't a tragedy, it's still a loss. The world feels simply altered after her passing.

Sharing "four puffs" with Grandma Maggie

Unlike most grandmothers, Grandma Maggie wasn't sweet, she didn't sew, and I don't think I ever witnessed her baking anything from scratch, other than a lamb-shaped cake at Easter, which had a black jellybean inserted into its bottom. Grandma Maggie often indignantly declared, "Poppycock!" when she disagreed with what you had to say, and that was frequently. She smoked, she enjoyed a drink, and she gambled. Grandma Maggie loved life, and she celebrated every day as such.

Margaret Sexton grew up during the Depression, the fourth of five children. In fact, as I discovered only after her death, she was actually one of six children; an older brother died a toddler. Grandma Maggie's father was a machinist, and, like most men during that time, fond of an occasional drink. One night, collected from a bar by the cops, he was taken into police custody and beaten to death. A generous account of his murder was that it was something of an accident, brutality gone too far. No one ever made much mention of it, and Grandma Maggie only talked about it once or twice in all the years I knew her. Her mother, for her part, raised five children on her own during both the Depression and the Great Flood of 1937. It was the Great Flood that would result in Grandma Maggie meeting the man she'd marry. She and Grandpa George eloped, and then off he went to war.

Years on, after Grandpa George had returned from fighting in the Philippines, they began building a business of their own. It was a small business, and they staked everything they owned on its success. At first, it wasn't working out, and so they did precisely what you're not supposed to do when you have three kids, a mortgage, and just $200 in the bank: they said, "To hell with it," and took themselves on vacation with the last of their savings. When they returned, somehow, the business took off.

At this point, and over the years, they grew a little bit wealthy. There were trips to Russia, Greece, and a short time living in an apartment in Paris. Grandma Maggie became a docent at the Cincinnati Art Musem. Grandpa George smoked cigars and bought fresh fish.

If this had been where her story, their story, had ended, it would have been interesting enough for those who knew them. But then grandchildren came into their lives, and that's where Grandma Maggie's unforgettable impact was made on me. What follows is the eulogy I wrote for her funeral, which unfortunately was unable to be read at the service. (I suspect Grandma Maggie had a hand in preventing me from reading the following about her!)


“Let the cat die down!” was something Grandma Maggie used to say to me when I was a little girl, swinging in her backyard on Larry Avenue in Cincinnati. She would always repeat this particular advice many times over, with all the authority of every commandment she issued. “Trishy, let the cat die down!” she’d say again one last time, as the swing came to a final stop.

I never asked Grandma Maggie what that actually meant, “Let the cat die down;” it only now occurs to me as something I probably should have asked, because, unlike everything else Grandma Maggie taught me, that phrase about the cat never made much sense.

"Oh, poppycock!" with my brother Tim.

And Grandma Maggie taught me a lot. She taught me how to eat my soup like a proper lady, pushing my spoon away from me, instead of pulling it toward me. She introduced me to freshly cracked peppercorns, salmon steaks, and The Maisonette, Ohio's finest restaurant, and one of the finest in the country. Grandma Maggie let me stay overnight and in the morning she toasted waffles and put fresh blueberries on top. When I was nine, she gave me my first cup of coffee, sweet and milky in a fine-bone china teacup, and I’ve been drinking it and thinking of her for thirty years since.

In 2001, a few weeks after 9/11, Grandma called me at home in New York. “My baby needs me to come visit,” she’d said, characteristically not actually asking, but informing. Grandma had already bought her ticket, and would arrive in a few days. In New York, while I went to work during the day, Grandma took herself to a funeral at the famous St Patrick’s cathedral held by Mayor Giuliani for firefighter victims of the attack on the Twin Towers. At night, we went out to dinner and argued, feisty grandmother sparring with her protégé, fifty years younger. To this day, I still remember what that argument was about, although Grandma would certainly roll over in her grave if I put it here in print. When she left New York to return home to Ohio, I discovered a half-empty bottle of brandy in my cupboard. When I asked her about it, she told me she’d brought it for me to help me deal with 9/11. But it’s half empty, I’d protested. “No it isn’t!” she insisted, and never admitted to anything other than evaporation for the disappearance of that brandy.

A few years later, Grandma returned to New York, this time on happier terms than a post-9/11 visit. This time she just wanted to spend time with me and to meet my friends. At dinner one night at the cozy Il Cantinori Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village, Grandma and I met with half dozen or so of my closest girlfriends. As the wine arrived, they began firing questions at her: What was it like growing up during the Depression? Did you really fall in love and elope? Tell us about traveling the world!

“Stop talking now, all of you!” Grandma interrupted the girls. “I want to hear about you,” she said. And she listened intently as each of my friends told her own story. When everyone was finished, Grandma asked if we’d heard of the “Balls Club.” They hadn’t; I hadn’t either. “For women with balls!” Grandma explained, as if we should’ve known all along. She thereby inducted each of us into the “Junior Balls Club,” so named for the younger generation of the “Senior Balls Club” she’d begun with friends of her own. Before dessert arrived, Grandma stepped outside the restaurant with one of my friends to have a cigarette. When she’d finished smoking, and she may have been a little tipsy, Grandma flirted with a passing fireman, declaring in damsel-in-distress fashion that she couldn’t walk herself back into the restaurant. The fireman carried Grandma in, and placed her at her seat at the table. When he left and the onlookers had stopped staring, Grandma gave everyone of us girls a knowing, maybe educational, look that said, “And ladies, that’s how it’s done.” 

Of course, if she were here, she’d probably deny that too.

Not long ago, I introduced Grandma to my now-husband. She seemed to like him, like him enough anyway to include him in the mandatory Christmas caroling and the Post-It-note jobs on the fridge. I loved that about her: no matter who you were, no matter how new you were to the Sexton family, you had a place in her house. And you had a job.

It wasn’t long after Christmas that Jesse and I had tried to phone her. I can’t remember the reason we’d tried to call, but we’d tried unsuccessfully for a few days, and then we began to worry. Just as we were about to contact other family members to ask why her line was busy, it finally rang, and she picked up. “Grandma, are you okay?” I asked, with Jesse listening in. “What the hell do you mean?” she’d said, a little defensively. “I was playing online blackjack!”

Undoubtedly for me, Grandma Maggie’s greatest gift was simply the way she lived. She lived life to its fullest, whether she was setting her baby brother's diapers on fire during the Depression, gushing about briefly living in Paris, playing Upwords with her latest victim, or just visiting with her grandchildren. About a year ago, Grandma was on her patio at the retirement home where she lived, sipping an afternoon wine and smoking her “four puffs.” The chair she was sitting on broke, and she fell through the seat. She was stuck, and she was sure this was the way she’d die. “Well,” Grandma told me, days later, after she’d been rescued by a nurse, “I’ve had a good life. It wouldn’t have been a bad way to go.”

Maybe the reason I never quite understood “Let the cat die down” was that it seemed to encourage winding down, rather than stopping. And Grandma Maggie didn’t seem like someone who would ever really wind down, or stop, for that matter. But although she has done just that, what she taught me, and all of us here, will live on and on.   

Epilogue: Just as I was beginning to pen this blog about Grandma Maggie, I received a text from my mom, who is helping to clean out Grandma Maggie's apartment at the retirement home. Inside her curio cabinet, my mom found her First Communion book. For all you Catholics and ex-Catholics out there, you know that this book is supposed to be a holy keepsake, a reminder of the day when you received one of the blessed sacraments. Tucked inside Grandma Maggie's First Communion book was a debit card for one of the casinos she frequented. Grandma Maggie, wherever you are, the world has forever changed without you. 

As always, celebrating. 

Dedicated to Margaret Mary Sexton, September 18, 1923 to July 21, 2014.

"LIVE from Mongolia" is the true story of one woman's journey to pursue her passion. The book has been a bestseller on Amazon. Author Patricia Sexton left behind a Wall Street career to anchor the Mongolian news. She now features dream-followers on her blog and previously on the TV show, WE Talk. (Published by Beaufort Books, Oct. 2013)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

From Homeless to Hollywood: Following an Unlikely Dream

Jack Kennedy was so committed to giving his dream one last chance that he ended up homeless before he made it in Hollywood. This is his story, in a guest post by actor and film producer Jack Kennedy himself. Jack is currently on the road in Texas with just his dog and his Jeep. Find out why...

SOMEWHERE ON THE ROAD IN TEXAS—Whenever somebody asks me how I’m doing, I answer, “Livin’ the dream.” But I’m an actor so that dream is often a nightmare. I’ve been at it eleven years now, had my successes, my failures, and times when I force my heart, nerve, and sinew to hang on when there’s nothing left except the will which says, “Hang on.” Yes, I stole that from Rudyard Kipling, that brilliant bastard! A year and a half ago, I decided it was time to either finally succeed completely or fail completely, no more in-between. So I quit my job and vowed to do NOTHING but act for a living. After two months, the money ran out and I moved into my Jeep with my dog; when it comes to dreams, failure is not an option. So I kept dreaming and something magical happened: I was homeless for nine months, but had my best year ever! I filmed a scene with Ben Kingsley in Iron Man III, booked a commercial, filmed two episodes of the TV show Castle and an episode of the NBC sitcom, Community, among other things.   
Jack Kennedy (center) with Martin Short and Jason Alexander

And now, heartened by a string of success, I am continuing to dream and doing what Hollywood says cannot be done: I wrote and am producing a film that doesn’t have Transformers, aliens, zombies, bloodshed, sex, or a scene with Channing Tatum’s abs! Who wants to see a heartwarming tale about an alcoholically wet and creatively dry writer who finds himself living in a semi-functional ’68 Winnebago while a dying mechanic becomes his unlikely muse? I do. And I am gambling that others do too!

I am now pouring my heart, soul, and the remnants of my bank account into making You Are Here. I am laying it all on the line, playing David before all the Goliaths, asking friends and strangers alike to contribute to my production as well, knowing that if I fail, my Rolodex will be forever tarnished, as useful as a life vest in a hurricane, my reputation like a gazelle in a lion’s den. But it is a risk I must take, because I must respect The Dream. And if you respect The Dream, go to, type in You Are Here, see what I’ve staked my existence on, and give the film a little love, cuddling, and contribution. Or…

Go pursue your own dream! Dreams are not to be trifled with; they are the pioneers of our path. If we ignore them, we ignore our destiny. And these suckers do not die; they just bide their time until we are sixty then return to haunt us all over again. But when we pay attention to them, our lives become extraordinary…maybe not in the way we imagined, but by taking that first step toward our dreams, we will discover thoughts, experiences and joy never imagined. This I know, because I am livin’ the dream!

"LIVE from Mongolia" is the true story of what happened when one woman followed her wildest dream out of a corporate career and into the news anchor chair in Mongolia. The book is available on Amazon (hardcover and Kindle), Barnes & Noble, and in bookstores. Published October, 2013 by Beaufort Books in New York.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

LIVE from the #BringBackOurGirls Wellington Rally

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND—This afternoon, I joined Yemi, a Nigerian friend, and hundreds of New Zealanders, several NGO spokespeople and diplomats, and 276 local schoolgirls to rally for the #BringBackOurGirls movement.

Change-a-Life Nigeria for #BringBackOurGirls
In the rain and cold, we met in Civic Square in downtown Wellington and marched to Parliament, where we were met by a senior cadre of politicians. As we made our way through the capital, we were led in a chant:

"What do you want?"

"Bring back our girls!"

"When do you want it?"


"Real men?"

"Real men don't buy girls!"

I found it awfully difficult in these circumstances, amongst so many people so passionately banded together, the New Zealanders, the foreigners, the Nigerians, the politicians, the diplomats, and the handful of kids in strollers, to chant. Every time I raised my voice, it cracked. Eventually, I thought of anything but those 276 abducted schoolgirls, just so I could join in the shouting.

"276 Stolen Dreams" 
At Parliament, a South African man took the mike, and said two things that astonished me. First, he reminded us how long it took the international community to condemn the violence in Rwanda in 1994. As the speaker pointed out, it wasn't until 10,000 or so dead bodies floated down the Kagera River into Lake Victoria that the international community took action. And then he also alerted us to a new type of violence: in Nigeria, in the north, Boko Haram have begun killing children while they sleep. It is with breathless astonishment and fury that I then (and still, in this moment, as I type) tried to imagine how one might go about murdering a sleeping child, how one might lean on religion to make this act right in the eyes of their god.

The crowd, after hearing this from the South African speaker, was silent. My friend Yemi murmured that it was true, that yes children are being killed while they sleep. Shoulder to shoulder, I stood with a Sri Lankan man and a Chinese woman. The Sri Lankan held a sign that read "276 Stolen Dreams - Bring Back Our Girls."

And it is with this in mind that I contemplate, once again, the nature of following dreams. For some of us, me included, following a dream was a decadence, a choice. I walked out of one terrific job to pursue a path to something more terrific. Alas, it was freedom that allowed me to do so, and education that provided the building blocks. So what of these children, of these girls? What of their hopes and dreams, their simple right to make choices?
276 schoolgirls arrive from Wellington Girls' College

And what can the world do? What actual action can we take? Nobody seems to want American military involvement. That much was clear from what was said by one of the politicians, and how the crowd reacted in agreement.

Off in the distance, shattering the solemn silence, 276 schoolgirls from Wellington Girls' College arrived. They wrapped around Parliament, jubilantly chanting, "Bring back our girls! Bring back our sisters!" They stomped their feet, and rallied a hopeful cry that brought tears to everyone's eyes.


"LIVE from Mongolia" is the true story of one woman's journey to pursue her passion, at all costs. It's a #1 bestseller on Amazon. Available in hardcover, Kindle, and on Barnes & Noble. Happy dreaming…to those of us who can. (Published by Beaufort Books, 2013)

Thursday, May 08, 2014

LIVE from the Boardwalk: A Doctor's Dream to Skate

PACIFIC BEACH, CA — He was a doctor. He drove a BMW. He had a lot of money and an IRA. He was also, so he says himself, an asshole. One day, long before he did anything about it, he met an old man in a cafeteria. The old man gave him a piece of advice, one which he's never forgotten: "Do what you want to." It took him many more years, but one day he quit, and started skating. Yes, skating. In the short film Slomo by Josh Izenberg, we meet the man who left behind a neurology career (and a BMV, Ferrari, mansion, and exotic pets) to skate the boardwalk of San Diego's Pacific Beach.

Click below to see Slomo himself in action, and to hear what he thinks about IRAs, assholes, and the spirituality he found in skating.

"Everybody thought I was crazy, because I was too happy." -Slomo

(Thanks to reader Nathan Horne for sharing this incredible story!)

"LIVE from Mongolia" is the true story of one woman's journey to pursue her passion. The book is at #1 on Amazon's charts in the Mongolia category, and Top 10 in two other categories. Author Patricia Sexton left a Wall Street career to anchor the Mongolian news. She now features dream-followers on her blog and previously on the TV show, WE Talk. "LIVE from Mongolia" is on sale on Amazon for just $2 for the next 2 days, until May 11th. Happy reading, and happy dreaming! (Published by Beaufort Books, Oct. 2013)

Monday, April 28, 2014

Coming Home to America

WELLINGTON — For the past two days, my little girl and I have been on a steady diet of Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, and Roy Orbison. Driving along in the wet and wind in Wellington, we crank up the volume (at her insistence); she claps her hands and dances in her car seat, and I gulp down a lump in my throat.

Found on the back of a checkbook?!
It's been nearly a year since the three of us left New York to move to New Zealand to follow my husband's dream to return to his home. In that time, I've discovered that hot cross buns really do exist; I'd always thought they were just part of a nursery rhyme.  I've become accustomed to drinking some of the world's best coffee (see CNN's report on Wellington's world-class coffee culture). And I drive through the green splendor of a national park every time I venture into town. This is some of the stuff we came here for: the green, the proximity to adventure, the little surprises of things like hot cross buns.

And yet, as summer approaches in America, I find myself growing more and more wistful for my home, for summer as I know it. Those muggy nights. Catching fireflies at dusk (or, as we called them in Cincinnati, "lightning bugs"). Eating cherry-flavored popsicles. Knowing each and every day that it'll be hot, real hot. Looking forward to the 4th of July, that holiday when you put to bed your uncertainty about the direction of the country, and raise a glass of cold beer in one hand and a grilled hot dog in the other, and toast the nature of pursuit and determination that isn't endemic to America, but is nonetheless deeply personal to most everyone who has known America as home.

Hot cross buns really do exist!
Just as all this nostalgia reached a fever pitch, a funny thing happened. I got word from Beaufort Books, my New York publisher that something really good was about to happen with the book. And when something good happens with your book, you can justify a trip home. In fact, you can even think about a road trip. With a two-year-old. And Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, and Roy Orbison.

So, American Summer, I'm coming home to see you. I'm coming home to eat my dad's burned hamburgers, and my mom's Cool Whip strawberry shortcake. I'm coming for "lightning bugs," for that summery damp smell of air-conditioning, and for days so hot that nights stay that way. And, of course, I'm coming home with my book, to talk about what can happen when you follow a dream. And perhaps this time I'll talk about what it's like to follow someone else's dream, too.

Amazon has chosen "LIVE from Mongolia" as part of its Big Deal. For the next two weeks, the book costs $2. LIVE from Mongolia is one woman's true story of what happened when she quit her Wall Street job to pursue her dream into the news anchor chair in Mongolia. It's available on Amazon Kindle, in hardcopy, on Barnes and Noble, and in bookstores. It's currently #1 in the category of Mongolia, #3 in Journalism & Nonfiction, and #3 in Specialty Travel. Enjoy! And write me if you too have pursued your wildest dream; I'd love to hear from you! 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

LIVE from…Mongolia!

KHENTII MOUNTAIN RANGE — For eight centuries, the secret has been kept. At first, if you were unlucky enough to know the truth, you would have been killed. Later, if you were seeking the truth, you wouldn't have found it. But today, someone new is on the scene, and he's using a new kind of technology to uncover…the lost tomb of Genghis Khan.

Now, as many of you know, I have a thing for Genghis Khan. For me, his story of achieving a 'dream' (although I doubt he'd have put it that way) is one of the most fascinating and unlikely in all of history. Genghis Khan grew up in poverty so desperate that he made meals of rodents, and ultimately killed a half-brother during a dispute over lunch. From that backdrop, he would rule no less than a third of the world. He'd conquer more land and in less time than the Romans. His empire would expand from Korea in the east to Russia in the north, the Middle East in the south, and Europe in the west. He was one of the most successful world leaders, ever.

But we don't know where Genghis Khan was buried.

Albert Yu-Min Lin means to change all that. He's an explorer, an adventurer, and an archaeologist searching for the tomb of Genghis Khan. He isn't the first one to have tried, and he still may yet fail. But this is his dream, said best in his own words:

"Three years ago while sleeping on a friend's couch I had a dream that took complete hold of me. I set out to find a legendary tomb in a forbidden place. And yet, what I was looking for may have been in plain sight all along. It's been said that if you're searching for Genghis Khan, just look into the eyes of any nomad and you'll find him there." -from The Missing Tomb of Genghis Khan

Click below to watch a clip of Dr Albert Yu-Min Lin's incredible adventure...

LIVE from MONGOLIA is the true story of what happened when one woman followed her wildest dream out of a corporate career and into the news anchor chair in Mongolia. The book is available on Amazon (hardcover and Kindle), Barnes & Noble, and in bookstores. Published October, 2013 by Beaufort Books, NYC. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Word about My Dad…and Palestrina

CINCINNATI—Yesterday, as I was driving to a meeting, the local classical station introduced "Palestrina." For nearly forty years, I've thought "Palestrina" was a thing, not a person. When my brothers and I were kids, Dad used to threaten us with Palestrina. If we were badly behaved, particularly on Sunday mornings, he'd turn on the record player, and crank up Palestrina. In fact, even if we were well-behaved, he'd find an excuse to play Palestrina at full-volume. To us, Palestrina was a punishment of maudlin church music.

Turns out, as I found out last night, "Palestrina" is Giovannia Pierlugi da Palestrina, a composer, one of the most famous composers of sacred music. Still, though, I'm not exactly sure why my Dad is so taken with his music. It's just a little bit…funereal.

Anyway, in my excitement at having discovered, after all these decades, a little bit about Palestrina, I emailed my Dad. Now, a word about my Dad and email: he does not use it. He calls email "Gmail" because that's the platform he uses, and he virtually never responds. So, it was with some surprise that I received a response from him just a few hours after I'd mailed. Which said:

Trish, No, not 1690. Palestrina did his composing around 1500. And
why would anyone want to play classical that old. The further you get
from our time, the stranger the music sounds in general. If you wish
to experiment try Guillaume de Machaut from around 1200, really weird.

So, aside from setting me straight about the timing of Palestrina composing (which he would've remembered; he doesn't know about Wikipedia), Dad revealed to me that he never really thought much of Palestrina. I admit to being a tad dismayed by this, having spent the better part of my childhood being subjected to dusty old church tunes from the Renaissance period.

But what really struck me, and why I'm writing at all about this on a blog series about people who follow their wildest dreams, is that my Dad and his dreams never cease to impress me. In the early 1970s, he left everything behind (including Christmas dinner; he left on Christmas day!) to head to Central America. There, he built houses and hitchhiked. He only came back because he'd fallen in love before he'd actually left, and so he took a teaching job to support the family he and my Mom would create.

Back in Ohio, he taught. He taught at a school that would end up doing him very wrong (there's considerably more detail in the book). And so when he was fired, it seemed like his dreams were finished. And for a little while, they were. But, he and my Mom had four kids to take care of and they had to get on with life. Dad became a house painter, and spent a lot of time listening to, we both know where I'm headed, Palestrina.

So, here's to a man I spend everyday looking up to. To an adventurer who took risks. To a teacher who demanded the best of his students. To a painter who prides himself on precision. To a father who taught four little kids, held hostage by the whimpering tones of Palestrina, that dreams are possible, even if they don't always go your way right away.

"LIVE from Mongolia" is the true story of what happened when one woman followed her wildest dream out of a corporate job and into the news anchor chair in Mongolia. The book is available on Amazon (hardcover and Kindle), on Barnes & Noble, and in bookstores. Published October, 2013 by Beaufort Books, NYC. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

LIVE from…A floating village in Thailand!

KOH PANYEE, THAILAND — If this short film about following an impossible dream doesn't make you cry, then you need to get your tear ducts checked out.

This is the true story of a group of young boys in Thailand who dreamed of, quite simply, playing soccer. Trouble is, they come from a floating village. The floating village doesn't have any land. Not a single square inch of it. So, what did they do to achieve their dream? And…what happened when they did? (Click below to watch.)

And here's what they had to say about overcoming obstacles in pursuit of a goal, and (spoiler alert) becoming regional soccer champs for many years in a row:

"Whatever challenges you face in life, if you think you can make a difference, we say you can."

"LIVE from Mongolia" is the true story of what happened when one woman followed her wildest dream out of a corporate career and into the news anchor chair in Mongolia. The book is available on Amazon (hardcopy, Kindle), on Barnes & Noble, and in some int'l bookstores. Published October 2013 by Beaufort Books, NYC. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Stephen Colbert on Following a Dream

NEW YORK — "Simply being a guest on David Letterman's show has been a highlight of my career,"  Stephen Colbert said. "I never dreamed that I would follow in his footsteps…"

I don't know about you, but I think there's something pretty special about Stephen Colbert's story of how he got to where he is.
Stephen Colbert as a kid (Imgarcade)

Colbert is a small-town kid from a big Irish Catholic family who experienced tragedy at a young age when his Dad and two of his brothers were killed in a plane crash. He was a mediocre student who barely considered college. He'd dreamed of being, of all things when you consider who he is now, a marine biologist, but couldn't due to damage to his ear drums. To make ends meet when he didn't have any money, he sold souvenirs.

I'd love to personally ask Colbert what urged him to carry on, how he managed to continue to believe in himself when nothing seemed to be going his way. I'd love to know who said to him, "You can do it." If any of you readers happen to know Colbert, and if he isn't too busy doing what he said he'd be doing to prepare to take over from Letterman, I'd sure like to talk to him. I have a few questions about dream-following to ask...

"I'm thrilled and grateful that CBS chose me. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go grind a gap in my front teeth," said Colbert in CBS's full press release.

'LIVE from Mongolia' is the true story of what can happen when you pursue a lifelong dream. It's been the Mongolia bestseller on Amazon (available in hardcopy and on Kindle), and it's available on Barnes & Noble, and in some int'l bookstores. Published by Beaufort Books in 2013. 

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

LIVE from…The Great Wall of China!

THE GREAT WALL—He is one of the few people in history crazy enough to do it. He's also the youngest westerner, the first New Zealander, and very likely the only trained lawyer. In 2000, Nathan Hoturoa Gray set out to walk the entire length of the Great Wall of China. He was joined by a Buddhist monk, an Argentinean photojournalist, a Mormon golfer, an Italian recording artist—and for a time, a soon-to-be ex-girlfriend. In order to achieve this incredible dream, he had to skirt police surveillance, brave snakes, and even face starvation. Once, he had to sleep in a plastic bag to protect himself from a blizzard. Oh and, he had to walk four thousand kilometers.

Nathan Hoturoa Gray is a 39-year-old adventure journalist. He's a half-Maori, half-English New
Nathan Gray (Courtesy: Nathan Gray)
Zealander living in Wellington. Nathan is described as having "youthful energy," and that he does. He talks quickly and excitedly about the adventures he's been on. And those have been many. Nathan has traveled to more than seventy countries, thirty-six American states, and he's hitchhiked from Norway to the Middle East, with a stint in between in western Europe and at the pyramids.

"You do it with the power of your thumb!" Nathan says about hitchhiking, or about his ability to achieve unusual feats of adventure, or maybe both.

It was a 1993 trip to South Africa that would change his life.

In 1993, when Nathan was eighteen, he was chosen to study abroad in South Africa. His selection for the exchange program was significant. Ever since the 1981 Springbok rugby tour, one of the most contentious events in New Zealand history, New Zealand exchange students had not been permitted to study in South Africa. Nathan would be the first Kiwi to study in the country since 1981, and the first Maori—ever. At the time, South Africa was in tumult. Three years prior, Nelson Mandela had been freed. There were riots, demonstrations, and racism. For a "fresh-faced and naive Kiwi," as Nathan described himself, it would have been a tremendous risk, especially for someone of color, as Nathan is.

"I experienced living history and learned self-reliance," he said about his year there. Enrolled in a staunch Afrikaans school, he made sure to learn the language. And then he did something unusual: he taught his classmates the Maori haka dance, which would be a turning point for him, and for them. While it helped his classmates overcome prejudices, it helped Nathan overcome his own shame.

"I'd been ashamed of my Maori side," he admitted candidly, noting that although he is half-Maori, his physical appearance is more English. "My time in South Africa helped me to appreciate that side [of my heritage]. I experienced cultural awareness, and I was able to truly see the country for the first time."

After he completed his year there, Nathan went on to study in America. He got a law degree, and took a couple of internships in Alaska and Saipan, in the Western Pacific. His internships, one for local government and one as a summer clerk at a law firm, were supposed to help his budding law career. Instead, they drew one conclusion for him:

"I didn't want to get stuck in an office. I was twenty-four, and I knew that quite clearly."

Nathan on the Great Wall trek (Courtesy: Nathan Gray)
Nathan figured he had five years to travel before he had to get serious about life and work. He also figured he could get by on five dollars a day for the next two years. He'd saved $10,000 from his two internships, and he committed to using that money to fulfill this new dream of his to get on the road.

"For me, the next five years was all about seeing as many sunrises and sunsets as possible," Nathan said.

Nathan started in America, driving through thirty-six states, flew to Europe, and ultimately ended up in Egypt. And it was in Egypt, at the pyramids, that he encountered another profound moment, one which would spark his curiosity for the ancient. At Cheops, also known as the Great Pyramid of Giza and one of the oldest and largest pyramids, Nathan found himself completely alone. It was dark, the other tourists were gone, and he began to experience  an "out-of-this-world intensity" that had an important impact on him. As it turns out, Cheops is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and this was not lost on Nathan. He left inspired, and more curious than ever.

All the while, Nathan was writing. It was the late 1990s, email had just become mainstream, and Nathan had begun to discover an audience.

"One thing led to another," Nathan explained. Did it ever.

Nathan trekking in winter (Courtesy: Nathan Gray)
Nathan's travel emails made it into the inboxes of magazine editors, and soon he was getting published in Tu Mai magazine, P3 Update, and National Geographic. Better still, his twin brother Tanemahuta Gray, a dancer and choreographer, had been forwarding Nathan's messages to a certain Argentinean photojournalist. That photojournalist would offer Nathan the chance of a lifetime: he invited Nathan to join him to walk The Great Wall of China.

Nathan Hoturoa Gray never did end up a lawyer, and he hasn't spent a day in an office that didn't excite him. (Often, his office is on the road; he's covered stories from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to the 2009 cyclone in the Philippines and many more—he's even reported on the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa by examining race relations in the country.)

After Nathan received the invitation from the Argentinean photojournalist, he packed his bags for China. Over the next two years, he walked and he wrote.
Nathan's book, "First Pass Under Heaven"

"Being first out of the womb, I am generally considered to be the elder," Nathan writes in the opening chapter of his book First Pass Under Heaven, which tells the tale of this incredible journey from the Gobi to the Bohai Sea. "Not so, it seems, from the perspective of the Maori. They believe the second is the elder because the latter twin 'kicked' the first from the womb. Life began with an eviction. I suppose it does with us all."

In his book, Nathan faces barely imaginable obstacles in his pursuit of his dream to walk the Great Wall. It's no secret that he makes it; the secret is in how he makes it. "I made a promise to myself," Nathan tells me. "And that was getting to the end of the wall."

To read about Nathan's incredible journey walking the Great Wall of China, you can buy "First Pass Under Heaven" (Penguin, 2006) on Amazon. Nathan has also recently published "The Age of Fire", an adventure travel book looking at where the human species is heading in the next fifty years. Buy it here. Nathan has clerked for the Chief Judge of the Maori Land Court/Waitangi Tribunal and worked in Communications for the CEO of the Ministry of Maori Development. He served five years on the Maori Board of Creative New Zealand as well as two years on the Board of the New Zealand Film Archive.

"LIVE from Mongolia!" is the true story of what can happen when you follow your wildest dream. It's available on Amazon (hardcover and Kindle), on Barnes & Noble, and in select int'l bookstores. Join me here for this weekly blog series featuring stories of ordinary people following extraordinary dreams! 

Friday, March 28, 2014

LIVE from…Whale Wars!

WELLINGTON WHARF & THE SOUTHERN OCEAN—For months at a time, they live in cramped quarters on a ship that sails to one of the coldest, most hostile, and most unforgiving seas on the planet. There in the Southern Ocean, battling winds, thirty-foot waves, frigid weather, collisions with much bigger ships, and confrontations with governments, their singleminded focus is to save the lives of whales. They even take an oath to offer up their own lives if it means the chance to save the life of a single whale. They eat only vegan food, and are called, among other choice insults, terrorists.
Sea Shepherd Bob Barker (Photo: Aaron Carlino)

They are also brave.

This week I sat down with the captain and crew of the Sea Shepherd Bob Barker, which has just returned from ninety-five days at sea to dock in Wellington, New Zealand. I wanted to understand what it is about them, and what it is about whales, that make these people so doggedly passionate—so doggedly passionate that they are actually willing to die for their dream.

Andrea Gordon and her boyfriend Sam Sielen are New Yorkers. Andrea is from Flatbush, and she used to be a public defender; Sam worked in the Manhattan DA's office. Both are crew members on the Sea Shepherd Bob Barker. Andrea is Manager, and Sam is Director of Photography. Andrea first became aware of the movement when she saw what she described as "gut-wrenching" photos of baby harp seals being skinned for their fur. At first, she didn't think she could do anything about it. Then she read an article about Paul Watson, the founder of Sea Shepherd. Andrea was impressed with his and the organization's philosophy to put the animals first, the "clients" she joked, admitting that her law training forced her to think about injustices, about righting wrongs. So Andrea took a year's absence from her job to volunteer for Sea Shepherd. This commitment must've spoken to the ship's top brass. When the famous Captain Peter Hammarstedt made a personal telephone call to Andrea to come work for him, he asked her if she could be in Africa on one of their ships—in just a week's time. She hung up the phone to think about it, and then called Peter right back. Andrea said yes, and five campaigns later and a lot of subsequent time in Antarctic waters, and she's still working for him.

Baby harp seal (Courtesy: Sea Shepherd)

Ultimately, her boyfriend Sam left his job too, and joined the campaign.

The ship's bosun is a man named Phil Peterson. He's fifty-six years old, divorced, the father of two adult children. Phil has a weathered, permanent tan and tucks his long hair beneath a ball cap; he looks like a man who's spent a lot of time near the sea. And he has, passing some of that time whale-watching, as is customary in his hometown back in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Talking with Phil Peterson (Photo: Aaron Carlino)
One evening, Phil was watching "Whale Wars" on TV, the reality show that has made the crew of the Sea Shepherd famous. For Phil, this was about to be a defining moment. As he watched a whale being chased and then "blasted" to death, Phil said he began screaming at the television. "I was horrified," he told me, his voice cracking. "I couldn't believe commercial whaling [the term for harpooning whales to death for their meat, or for science] was still going on. Especially in a sanctuary!" The defining moment came when Phil asked himself what on earth he was doing with his life. "What am I doing in the world? I'm just a consumer, a mortgage payer." Suddenly, it didn't seem to make any sense to him that he was working to pay for a house that he no longer needed. "That was the moment I decided to do something," Phil said. "At some point, you have to do it or not. There are no half measures." Phil sold his house and then he sold everything else, and he too joined the crew of the Sea Shepherd.

Captain Peter Hammarstedt (Photo: Aaron Carlino)

Peter Hammarstedt captains the ship. He's young, twenty-nine, Swedish, and slight of build. Peter appears very calm, and doesn't necessarily look like someone with the muscle to tackle opponents who loathe him, shout at him, and, occasionally, wish he were dead. And those opponents are many: governments who make seemingly empty promises to protect the whales in a sanctuary, whaling ships that have come for the kill, and unusually angry people all over the world who decry the Sea Shepherd's tactics as terrorism.

"I was fourteen years old," Peter said. "I saw a picture of a whale being pulled up the slipway of the Nisshin Maru, the Japanese whaling ship, in the Antarctic. The picture shocked me. I was under the impression that whaling was something of the past. To know that it was still going on...I decided that I wanted to do something about it."

Dead Minke whales on Nisshin Maru (Courtesy: Sea Shepherd)

For Peter Hammarstedt, and he said so himself, "Passivity is the same as complacency."

When Peter was seventeen, he joined Greenpeace. When he was eighteen, Iceland resumed whaling. Iceland had been absent from the whaling industry for more than a decade, but they were back. Peter was angry about that, and by this point, he'd also grown disillusioned with Greenpeace, whose efforts he felt were focused more on publicity than on action.

Peter had heard about the Sea Shepherd, a marine conservation organization. The organization was smaller than Greenpeace, but they had a reputation for taking action. "I wanted to physically get between the harpoons and the whales," Peter said. The Sea Shepherd was advertising a campaign to travel to Iceland. Peter applied, and was accepted. He was still just eighteen.

Some years later, Peter Hammarstedt was put in charge. And not just of the boat as captain; he was put in charge of physically blocking the whaling vessels from refueling. During last year's Operation Zero Tolerance campaign into the Southern Ocean, Peter commanded a small boat, which aimed to put an early end to the whalers' hunting season by cutting off their fuel supply. It was dangerous work, and he was rammed several times in rough seas by much bigger vessels.

"Nisshin Maru," Peter cried out by walkie-talkie from his 800-ton boat to the captain and crew of the 8000-ton Japanese whaling vessel the Nisshin Maru, "I will not move! I will not move! You'll have to sink me…I am not going to move for you!"(Watch the dramatic video of this confrontation here.)

In fact, this particular mission was so dangerous that he spoke to his crew of thirty-four prior to embarking on it. He offered them a chance to jump ship, as it were, to bow out of the campaign before it got underway. Not one of the crew members took him up on it. It was Peter's most triumphant moment of his now decade-long career, knowing his crew was as dedicated as he was. And it was his most defining moment, he added, to learn that he and his crew had saved nearly nine hundred whales. Unable to refuel, the whaling ships were forced to cut their hunting season short, and they went home with just 10% of their original quota to kill more than a thousand whales.

But for Peter, every single whale death has a memorable impact. In 2008, he watched as a female whale was harpooned twice, then shot seven times by rifle. "It took twenty-two minutes and forty-four seconds for her to die," Peter said, looking away. "The risks I take pale in comparison to what these whales risk if we do not intervene. My biggest fear is not doing enough."

I asked Peter if he cried as he watched that whale die. It took him a long time to answer. "No," he said. "I don't cry during the campaigns. I cry after."

Peter has just completed his ninth consecutive campaign since 2002. He tells me that, over the years, he and his crews have saved nearly six thousand whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. He is proud of this fact, and it flickers across his face in a rare show of emotion. But, he and the other crew members admit, there are sacrifices. Peter, for one, has missed ten years of holidays with his family. Bosun Phil Peterson misses his children back home in America. And some of the other crew members simply miss being on land.

Humpback (Courtesy: Sea Shepherd)

"We take a lot of risks," Manager Andrea Gordon says. "We know what we're doing is a matter of life or death for the whales. It means taking a stand to save this species from extinction." I asked her how she squares risking her life for a cause that will never be able to verbally thank her.

"Tails splashing is thank you enough," Andrea said.

For Phil Peterson, his dream began with taking action. "It takes one individual to start a movement," he said. Now, his dream is to see governments stick by their commitments. "If you're gonna designate an area to be a sanctuary, enforce it," he said. "You make a commitment; you stand by that commitment."

If you're interested in learning more about the Sea Shepherd's mission, visit their website at 

"LIVE from Mongoliais the true story of what can happen when you pursue a lifelong dream. Published in October by Beaufort Books, it's available on Amazon (hardcopy and Kindle), Barnes & Noble, and in int'l bookstores. Join us here for this weekly series that tells the stories of people all around the world who are following unusual dreams.