Unveiling the Mystery that is Derek Anderson
October 2, 2018
Derek Anderson twirls a plane ticket to Asia between his fingers and wonders, “where the hell am I going to go?” As a historian, Derek meticulously planned and prepared for his dream trip to China. Eyes-wide, he scoured travel websites, documentaries, and history books only to learn that China’s history was happening in real time. Just six days before his scheduled departure, the Tiananmen Square protests unfolded, echoing shots of violence, bullets, and cries of democracy across the world. His dream trip was cancelled, but he continued to grasp the plane ticket tightly in his hands. Nothing, not even last minute logistical changes, will stop Anderson from travelling.
He recalls that summer of ‘89 with fond memories: “I ended up going to Indonesia and Thailand, and I wasn’t prepared for what I saw because I didn’t think I was going to go there. I read all this stuff about China, but it ended up being…it’s almost because I didn’t know a lot going in. The unexpected was very, very powerful and the serendipity of not having to plan in advance and just kind of arriving. And I went to this place called Borobudur, which is a buddhist temple on the island of Java in Indonesia, and it is one of the most stunning places I have ever been in the world. And to go in the course of three days to not having known about it and to see it, I appreciate it.”
To some, the unknown causes their palms to sweat with fear. But to Anderson, mystery and intrigue sing the serendipitous note of excitement. In fact, he claims, “I think my favorite memories are actually being on my own, figuring out a new city for the first time whether that was in Europe or Asia. For me, there was an excitement to the challenge of walking in somewhere you didn’t know. You arrive in a train or in a plane and figure it out when a time when there were no apps, no iPhones. You had to sort of figure it out by yourself and that built confidence, and that was very good for me.”
His impulse to forge into the unknown spans beyond his fervor for travel to his interest in history. As the Library Director and teacher of World Empires at Marin Academy, he often parses through traditional history texts, but don’t let this routine fool you. As Anderson recounts his experience in the classroom, he divulges his true opinion about the history books: “I taught a World History course for a long time and was continuously frustrated by the texts that were available.” To alleviate his chronic “frustration,” Anderson embarked on an ambitious project to, as he describes, “write a book of the history of the world since 1490 told through the lives of people who are not particularly well known.” Undaunted by the uncertainty and innovative nature of this project, he dove into interviews and writing. With his hands upon his head, he proudly muses: “I’ve been working on it for about seven years. It has become a bit of an obsession.”
But the mystery does not end there. When I ask him how this project began, he chuckles, saying, “That’s a secret, sorry. I need to save that for down the road; there’s a story to tell people. Too good of a story. But I will say it came out of my teaching at MA.” His eyes twinkle with intrigue.
For as much as Anderson considers uncertainty an old friend, he equally embraces familiarity with his arms wide open. His appreciation for close relationships and sense of independence stems from his tight-knit family. Anderson’s voice softens and his cheeks blush with a gleeful surge of nostalgia as he recalls his childhood: “My parents divorced when I was 10 and on the one hand that was hard but on the other hand it meant that my sister and I and my mom formed a this ‘us against the world’ team, and looking back on it those experiences were incredibly affirming for me, and I think back on them as happy times, which is perhaps odd because most people don’t think of a divorce, a newly divorced family, as being happy, but we were free, and I became more independent and that was good for me.” Even amidst a broken home, Anderson holds his relationships close to his heart and continues to remember his childhood fondly. From his wide-tooth smile and sparkling eyes, it is no secret that Derek Anderson is an optimist.
However, he more often refers to himself as an “underdog.” Soft spoken, Anderson rarely boasts his knowledge of world flags, but, as a child, he strode down the terminal of Minneapolis Airport and identified the country of “pretty much all of them.” Anderson is the ultimate dark horse; not because his chances at succeeding are low, but rather because his humble nature often conceals his vast array of talents and interests of which include: a knowledge of airport memorabilia, adoration for College Football rivalries, and love for World History.
Throughout the interview, Anderson claimed that he was not “that interesting of a person.” And he, before we even began the interview, asked me if I was sure I wanted to interview him. But after spending only 30 minutes with him, I know Anderson should not only be writing books, but he should have books written about him. His story remains unfinished, and I can’t wait to one day read The History of Derek Anderson: The Journey of a Flag Collecting Family Man to a Pulitzer Prize Winning Author.