The Collective: Mindy Chen

This week The Cold Mountain Collective is launching an interview series called ‘The Collective: Interviews.’ A set series of questions will be asked of inspiring individuals who are living mindful and conscious lives. The first interviewee of the series is Mindy Chen.

Mindy Chen

Mindy Chen is the sort of person with infectious energy who, when you first meet her, you think: I’ve got to spend more time with this girl. A PhD student at the UCLA School of Public Affairs, Mindy’s path to graduate school is unconventional—after completing her undergrad degree at Harvard, she worked as a labor/community organizer for seven years in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.  Currently, her research at UCLA focuses on the dynamics between community stakeholders, funders, nonprofits, and social movements in challenging poverty and inequality through service provision, advocacy, and direct action (now that’s a happy mouthful!). When she is not thinking about organizational behaviors, data points, strategy, and policy implications, she enjoys rock climbing, exploring LA on bike, and wandering in museums and big mountains.

Here are a few insights into how she incorporates conscious living into a life of picket lines and academic investigation:

Describe yourself in one word:

What makes you happy?
Making connections with people—whether a good talk with a friend, a nod of acknowledgement from a stranger on a bike, or drunken reverie with co-conspirators around a campfire.  Aside from interactions with live persons, being in communion with awesome man-made ideas, creations, objects and structures is pretty cool too.

What frustrates you?
Intellectual laziness…and drivers who don’t use turn signals when making left turns.

What is your greatest professional achievement?
At 25, I was the lead organizer for a high-profile unfair labor practice strike against a Bay Area hospital that profited off patients by understaffing nurses.  I worked 96 hours a week for two months straight on a 24-hour picket line, skipped several showers, got into many fights with hired goons, and broke my back (literally).  In the end, federal mediators stepped in and the workers won their say in patient care staffing ratios.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Who is your role model?
Thich Nhat Hanh, Mother Jones, Dolores Huerta, and a number of other trouble makers.

If you could give one piece of advice to yourself as a child, what would it be?
It’s okay to be a driven, idealistic, but pragmatic nerd—the hard work you put in will allow you to get so much more out of life later. Also, invest in a better backpack to carry your calculus books so you don’t eventually hurt your back in some future picketing action.

Describe your typical day:
I wake up at 7, eat black bean patties for breakfast, bike for five miles to my office, try to think and write for a few solid hours, and then hit the gym for Muay Thai practice (as much as I love people, kicking them can be great for working out research-related angst). At the end of the day, I usually reward myself with a frothy pint beer, even during weekdays.

Define beauty:
Hmm, it’s an ideal that connotes sincerity, a little cockiness, and some vulnerability.  A quality that is endogenous to the object/person and not begged from an audience…

When was the last time you…
Last night, I googled for videos of cats falling off ceiling fans.  It helps turn my brain off at the end of the day.

Last night as well.  Googling cats falling off ceiling fans usually turns up a number of other videos involving cats and cute animals and humans.  I cry with joy…

Mindy’s black phoebe

Created something:
A couple weeks ago, a little Black Phoebe flew to perch outside my office window; he was adorable, so I drew him (and a house and some friends for him).  In a past life, I used to doodle a lot more, but lately I have been making a lot of school-related excuses. In any case, here he is (at right).

Got lost:
Three years ago, in between grad school round 1 and 2, I was in a state of liminality.  The recession had just kicked my butt, and I was doubting whether I would be able to continue making a living as an organizer/graduate student.  I secretly wished that I had not cared so much about people, chosen to pursue a “normal” job, and had not turned down law school after college.

Got found:
In 2010, I met with my good friend and mentor John Delloro for lunch in LA’s Little Ethiopia.  He encouraged me to continue pursuing my passion to work for social justice, applauded me for my decision to go back to school, and reminded me I only have one life and one shot to make things count.  John suddenly passed away within six months, but
his parting message stuck.  I still worry about uncertainties in my future, but now I feel pretty confident about my navigation skills in this adventure of a life.

Made a fool of yourself:
Oh, I do this all the time!  The latest incidence happened about a month ago, when I sent an unsolicited email to a newly reacquainted friend telling him how awesome he is—and I never heard back.  I am usually good with people, but electronic communication has been very, very bad for me since I can’t read social cues.  A girlfriend suggested to me that sending emails professing crushes for people I’ve just met may be just too intense for some.

About Kaitlin Solimine

Kaitlin Solimine was raised in New Hampshire but has considered China a second home for the past two decades. She is the author of the award-winning forthcoming novel Empire of Glass and co-founder of Hippo Reads, a media start-up connecting academic insights with real world issues. She lives in Singapore.
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