Stories have a way of taking a grip on us. Even if we know nothing about the people involved, a good story makes us perk up our ears and sit in rigid anticipation of what happens next, lingering in the car with the radio on once we’ve reached the grocery store, pretending to be working while eavesdropping in a coffee shop, or accidentally missing our bus stop because we were so engrossed in our book.

But it’s not just the entertainment value that makes stories so appealing. Stories teach us about the lives of others, and in doing so, teach us about ourselves. They reveal little universal truths that help us to understand our world just a tiny bit better. Sometimes they help us to feel like we’re not alone.

The goal of How We Live is simple: to tell people’s true stories. In many cases, I’ve tried to choose stories that show how people grow and change as a result of their experiences. In other cases, I’ve chosen stories that show what it’s like to experience a particular event or way of living that most people will never get to experience themselves. Above all, I’ve tried to choose the stories that, if they had happened to you, you’d tell over and over through the years until they came out automatically, like pressing the play button on a tape recorder.

How We Live is intended to showcase a wide variety of opinions and ways of living across many countries, ages and cultures. It is not intended to espouse any one set of beliefs over others. None of the subjects of these stories paid for their inclusion on the site — I (or the credited author) simply found their stories worth telling. (On the other hand, if you like the stories you’ve read here and are interested in hiring me to write a personal experience or your company’s story for a website, blog, or publication — or just for posterity — please visit the Writing Services page.)


Leila Kalmbach. Photo by Korey Howell Photography.

Leila Kalmbach. Photo by Korey Howell Photography.

My own story begins in Austin, Texas, a city that itself has grown and changed a lot in the time I’ve known it. I’ve left Austin and come back more times than I can count, but I’ll always consider it home.

I went to Reed College in Portland, Oregon, where I graduated with a degree in psychology, focusing in particular on memory and its fallibility — an important thing to question when you’re telling true stories. Since 2006, I’ve been working as a freelance writer and editor. My work has appeared in Austin MonthlyCultureMap, the Austin Business JournalTasmanian LifeLong Island Bride and Groom, and Yoga Sanga, among others. Along the way, I’ve also worked as an AmeriCorps member, a swimming instructor, a restaurant server, a legislative proofreader, an underwater whale shark photographer, and a baker’s assistant, to name a few.

I love baking — I’m currently trying to learn everything I can about sourdough — and one of my favorite activities is to take a long walk while listening to a great story on audiobook. My biggest passion, however, is travel. I’m always interested in seeing new places and learning about life there, and it was this desire that eventually led me to write people’s true stories.

For a long time, it was frustrating to me not to be able to experience everything the world has to offer. My longest stint continuously abroad was 14 months, but even if I spent my whole life traveling, I wouldn’t be able to visit every country, and even if I visited every country, there’s so much I would miss out on in each one — so much I would never see or do, so many people I would never meet, so many aspects of the culture I would never understand. But eventually I realized that by moving around constantly, I was missing out too — on the experience of putting down roots, developing friendships over months and years, sharing memories with friends and family who had been there all along.

It occurred to me that no matter where we go in the world, it’s all about the people. The most beautiful spot in the world can be miserable if you’re alone or with people you don’t connect with, and the ugliest spot can be magical if you really click with those around you.

And so I started collecting people’s stories. Hearing about others’ experiences makes me more okay with the fact that I can’t experience it all myself. I think there’s a lot to be gained not just from doing ourselves, but from hearing about what others have done. I’m very grateful to those who have agreed to share their stories here. I’ve learned a lot from these stories, and I hope others will too.

5 Responses to “About”
  1. rachel naomi paguio says:

    leila, i love this idea. you word it so perfectly on this page. great work freebird! excited to see what’s to come.

  2. Ellen Vander Linden says:

    So glad to meet you. I look forward to all the stories yet to be told.

  3. D Lev says:

    Hello! I somehow found my way to your site and I really really like the concept. I’m so intrigued to hear stories of how people live throughout the world, because it’s extremely unlikely I’ll be able to see it myself.

    Keep ’em coming! I’ll be back; I’ve got this place bookmarked =)
    D Lev

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