December 27, 2011

My Boy

Way back when, I entered young adulthood without knowing a whole lot about how to connect deeply with other people, perhaps like many of us. I had my friends from childhood and that was about it. I socialized only when I had to. And I consciously limited those occasions.

In college, I worked at an animal pound and ended up adopting a dog. I had no idea what this would mean.

He wanted to be with me all the time. He loved me no matter what. It was all a new experience for me. I found joy in giving him a good life, and I ended up getting in touch with something inside me I hadn't often experienced since early childhood: The ability to be with another exactly as I was, without fear of judgment.

For someone who never loved a pet this may be hard to understand, but he was the twinkle of my mornings, the blue of my evenings. 

Love can lift that way.

After arriving in California in January 2006, I rented a beach cottage with a large yard for my dog’s last couple months. He had a brain tumor, and when he died, I understood that I was going back to an animal pound to do some work and honor his memory.

This multi-media project I’ve completed is nothing more than my best thank you for all the impossible doors he unlocked within me.

December 19, 2011

Deadline Creature

I used to have one of the greatest jobs ever: A daily newspaper reporter. Mostly I covered local news. I reported on city government, breaking news, features, the police and fire departments, some politics and an occasional document-based investigation. When my father died in 2004, I found myself not producing to the level I had come to expect of myself. My dad was a former journalist and after I went into journalism in my 20s, my father and I instantly developed a special friendship. Reporting and writing stories just wasn't the same without him. So I took a break.

I quit my reporting job in New England and, slowly, moved across the country to Southern California. I figured I'd do some volunteering until I was ready to return to reporting. The newspaper industry and economy went in the tank, however. Standing job offers were no longer available as my contacts had been laid off.

I tore through my savings account, though it lasted longer than I ever could have imagined. More than $120,000 lasted more than five years, during which time I took vacations to Italy and Paris, and took several trips to Portland, Chicago and Cleveland. I mostly lived with friends or family. But I also have had my own apartment as well as lived in a run-down beach motel during a couple off-seasons. Sounds romantic? At times the journey has been. Other times I have struggled. Like everyone.

After my money ran out, I picked up some spot work for AOL, and I continue to be grateful for that.

This year has been a return of sorts. I have learned once again how important producing good journalism is to my self-esteem. I am so lucky that the best non-fiction narrative editor in the country agreed to help me with my story of the Carson Animal Shelter. Working closely with an editor is a gift, especially a great one. Any story gets better under the direction of an experienced editor. It's a painful process, as the editor inevitably makes cuts and says it's not good enough, but such moments are a test for the writer to determine whether the work itself has improved from the changes or not. My story sure has improved from the first stab at a draft. It's not a book. It's a feature story, and I'm still shopping it. If I didn't have to pay the other journalists who helped with the story, I'd probably just run it in my blog.

But everything happens for a reason, and I hope to find a home for it soon.

The deadline for my finished story was last Friday. Since then, I've been putting together photos and captions. The photo above is what it looks like: Two volunteers giving a stray dog a bath. I wanted a photo of the dog shaking and the volunteers ducking out of the way of the spray, but this simple framed photo I ended up liking best.

December 8, 2011

Unclaimed Position

Yesterday we served coffee and oatmeal and hard-boiled eggs while security guards hired by the business association took photos of the homeless in line. They’ve done this regularly since the police and county health inspectors tried chasing the food servers away earlier in the year.

How about the position of the homeless in downtown L.A.: Being photographed in order to receive a free breakfast.

Afterward, my friends and I attended a burial ceremony to commemorate the year’s unclaimed bodies in the city.

There’s a reasonable chance some of those bodies ate food prepared by my friends.

Here's the latest on the breakfast line.

December 1, 2011

The Step-Down Room

The step-down room on the second floor was added to the Victorian in the 1940s. It is the most popular bedroom in the house, with good reason, beginning with the four steps leading from door to floor. 

Sunken rooms are fun, especially in a hippie house where everyone lives in voluntary poverty.

When my friends began occupying the Victorian in 1978, they used the step-down room to put together editions of their radical newspaper. The newspaper’s overflowing archives and parties have since been moved to the basement of the back house, so that the step-down room has passed from occupant to occupant, and I mean couple to couple.

Jim and Joyce lived in the step-down room 20 years ago. Now they live in Long Beach. Jim still enjoys driving up and answering the phone at the house on Saturdays, while everyone works at the soup kitchen.

The ceiling in the step-down room was painted a few years ago by a couple who fell in love after meeting here. After they moved out, Kurt and Sybilla moved in for a year.

Now the step-down room happens to be my girlfriend’s room.

Last night I fell asleep staring at the ceiling and listening to the sound of helicopter blades churning over Occupy L.A. Five members of this community were present at the eviction. Four were arrested.

I’m so grateful there was no serious violence, despite the local newscast repeatedly and unequivocally stating beforehand that 15 to 30 “bad apples” among the protestors were going to become violent with the police and the police will have to respond.

Don’t you just love it when reporters tell you the story before it ever happens.

Of all the garbage the local newscast dished out, my favorite was a demonstrator grabbing the microphone of an on-scene reporter and criticizing the mainstream media for showing images of people with gas masks ready instead of interviewing school teachers planning to be arrested. The station cut away to another reporter on the scene showing protestors with gas masks ready.

This morning, I flew to Cleveland to complete the data analysis for my animal shelter story. I'm really looking forward to sharing it here later this month.

Issues of fairness and justice have been on my mind, and how these sorts of stories are told. I find myself thinking about the future of this world plenty lately. 

But mostly I just like hanging out in the step-down room.