Heidi Isern

writer. thinker. whiskey drinker.


My first drug conversation with my parents went something like this:

Dad: “Well I know you are going to try something…so just do pot okay? Try it once, maybe twice, and get it out of your system. NOTHING MORE.”

Obviously Dad had not been watching the DARE programs citing marijuana as a gateway drug.

Mom: “You know, it just was a waste of time. Really, I was always more into natural highs. Like running! Yes! That’s where you should focus. Much more meaningful and much less headache in the morning.”

My mother had a point. Plus I had been shown the exploitation film “Reefer Madness” where marijuana fiends go berserk and rape and kill each other after rolling joints. That certainly wasn’t a desired outcome.

My parents were trying to guide me to be the best version of myself. But what does “best” mean? Is it sticking to rulebooks, societal standards and corporate ladders? Or is it going through a journey of investigation taking multiple samples out of life before deciding on a path? Or is it merely getting outside your comfort zone? I was a product of two hippies turned scientists; my DNA had curiosity embedded in it. I was doomed to be an experimentalist…

Now, this is not a blog post promoting crystal meth labs or the heroin junkies that frequent my neighborhood park at 1am. Experimenting with self-destruction is best left for mid day soap operas (or exploitation films like “Reefer Madness”). But there are other experiments worth trying. You know, the things that push your thinking and make you a better person. This is a post on lessons garnered from experimental journeys.

Trying Poverty
Before my MBA program started, I wanted to see another life outside of corporate America. I took a summer to work in Guatemala teaching basic reading and math in an indigenous highland school. The kids sported shredded clothing, dirty faces, and fleas. At first I didn’t want to get too close to them but their wide eyes coaxed me to soften. As I became comfortable holding their hands around pencils, they smiled. They sat in my lap, they sang me songs, they danced salsa, and they begged me to take them back to America with me. Through my summer with outhouses and second hand clothing, I learned a whole new type of love.

Trying Mayhem
India is chaos. Either you embrace it, you flee from it, or you get massive diarrhea and just get stuck on a toilet. I probably experienced #1 and #3…at the same time. But the embracing had to do with an element outside of my poor taste in street food. In a frantic train station I lost my ticket, my train, and my wallet. In the western world, I would have been done for. But in India, half the station population went on their hands and knees to look for my misplaced money. It was returned, and no one would accept a finder’s fee. In a crazy place like India, karma creates its own order.

Trying Vegetables
I’m from Montana. When I told my family I was giving up steak they almost disowned me. “And no special tofu turkey for you at Thanksgiving!” was the outcry. It wasn’t that I was adverse to meat eaters, I just knew that parts of the planet made ethical decisions to become vegetarian and I wanted to try it too. At first it was challenging. How could you eat a meal without a meaty main course? However, I started to cook more, being creative with food sources. I befriended eggplant and kale and created a more sustainable way of eating. Now, back as a carnivore, I eat meat with appreciation and lots of veggies on the side. By taking time away from the main course, I realized just how good side dishes can be.

Trying Wanton Sex
I was what people called a serial monogamist, going from long term relationship to long term relationship. Casual affairs were not my thing. However when one breakup coincided with me quitting my job and turning 30, I decided I had a fair excuse to be open minded. I flew to Bali, surfed, and met an Australian surfer. At the time, his energy was exactly what I needed to feel alive. The bungalow walls sweated from the heat, the ocean cooled us off. There were neither expectations nor attachments. I left the island with the experience wrapped in a bow….and was reminded to bring those carnal instincts into my next serious relationship.

Trying Mid Day Drinking
I spent a month in France in French school. I was expecting to wear a beret, black spectacles, read literature in dark cafes, and be “très sérieux”. My host parents had other plans. They insisted on weekend trips, nudist beaches, and long lunches with (the now illegal) foie gras and red wine. The problem with midday drinking is that I returned to class every afternoon totally hungover, fearful of verb conjugations. When I cited my problem, the family told me that perhaps I shouldn’t go to class at all but instead take a trip to Saint-Tropez to drink in safety and learn vocabulary from sailors. To the French, learning is best done through pleasure, not work. They told me that if I allowed myself to become seduced by the culture, my mind would relax and my mouth would finally master French phrases. Mais oui!

In the end, I am better for trying different things. I no longer seduce surfers, worship kale, live in highland huts or get drunk Tuesday at noon, but at least I have experienced it. It makes me appreciate the path I’m now on which includes commitment, meat, and funded school districts. I think my parents would approve. Even though I did smoke a joint more than twice.

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