A year in California: Reflection time

So about that regular blogging schedule… Oops! Summer months flew by like they didn’t even happen.

Of course, they did happen. But, you see, what had happened was… Alright, I know, excuses, excuses, excuses. I’m sorry!

The truth is, as my previous post suggested, I fell in love hard with the Bay Area and California. And I spent the summer, well… enjoying every minute of it. (Click here to skip to my July 2016 diary entry from my time covering Chicago violence.)

I drove down to Los Angeles twice in my trusty bright blue Toyota Rav4, named Mochi. I lounged for hours on the sand of that city’s gorgeous beaches. I partied with my beautiful friends Michelle and Kate.

I joined my friend Amanda and her friends on their road trip from Seattle to San Francisco for a few days and got to see a glimpse of Seattle and Portland (a city which lives up to its wonderful weird reputation).

I hiked and hung out and laughed out loud for hours with my new friends Kaitlin and Julian and their wonderful friends and roommates. Among many places we’ve visited together include the San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and a huge cabin in Boulder Creek (for Julian’s birthday).

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Life is meant to be enjoyed, I’m convinced. This summer was amazing, and I can’t believe I’ve already passed my one-year anniversary of living in California (I road-tripped out here at the end of September 2016).

When I think about my two previous summers before California… the summers I spent chasing shootings and covering the never ending violence in Chicago… All of those memories seem so far away, like a dream, and not a good one.

I recently stumbled upon a diary entry I made during the summer of 2016, right before I got my job at Stanford. It reminded me how broken my mental state was at that time. I am so happy I got the chance to do overnight crime reporting. It showed me things very few people get to see up close, and I believe I’m a better person as a result.

But jeez, my view of the world was so distorted then. I debated whether or not to publicly share this entry because it’s pretty depressing, and I like to not dwell on those negative feelings. Some reporters talk about their experiences more than others. I’ve always been the type to just focus on my work. I’m a pretty private person when it comes to my true feelings.

That said, I think this piece presents an interesting look behind the scenes for anyone wondering how covering violence affects journalists. It’s also a reminder that people go through emotional and mental states. Everything will pass, as they say.

So if you’re reading this and you’re in that terrible mental state, hang in there. Try to make choices that are healthier for you long-term. Maybe get a therapist. But if that’s not something that’s possible, just look up at the sun and the stars once in awhile. You’re living on this giant rock hurdling through the cosmos. How cool is that?  

July 12, 2016 (Edited slightly for clarity from the original)

I don’t know what started it. These feelings of unsureness, insecurity and doubt.

Maybe it’s the unhealthy lifestyle – the long night hours and the constant back and forth of
sleeping during the day during the work week and sleeping at night on the weekend. The
emotional toll of tragic stories and images I have to witness and write about.

After some time, all of them started to blend together ever so lightly. Different but so similar. Innocent kids and older people, who get shot either playing on the sidewalk or lying in their bed, trying to sleep. Sons who surely stopped gang banging but get shot to death, because when you enter a game, there
is no way out. Hearing gunfire by crime scenes – a terrifying, unearthly sound I heard described as ”exciting” by a fellow reporter.

People love to hear and read about violence. They click on the stories. So I have to wonder
what came first? Our calling as journalists to cover the violence that happens in these
underprivileged neighborhoods or the paper’s need to stay relevant in the ever-evolving world of
digital journalism that seems to be all about virality and clicks nowadays.

I think I was idealistic just like everyone is when they’re young. But I’m not sure how I came to
feel this incredible dread. I now truly believe like nothing will change. People will keep getting
shot, and people will continue to die. And no one really cares. Maybe my view is affected
because that’s just what I see all the time – violence, it’s all I’m focused on. Maybe I don’t see
the big picture. Maybe every story that I write actually matters and is affecting someone in some
deep way so they can enact change.

But maybe my depressing dreadful view is completely correct.

Of course, even if I’m right, it doesn’t mean that it’s not worthy to tell the stories of those who get
affected by the daily violence in Chicago. Someone should do it. Someone should approach that
grieving mother or relative and ask them, in a nonjudgemental way, whether her son
gang banged.

I’m afraid, however, that my compassion is getting duller as time goes on. I’m afraid that my
voice sounds robotic, because the words “I’m so sorry for your loss” have been uttered by me
so many times they seem to lose meaning. I’m afraid that that will drive the people I interview
away, in turn making me a subpar reporter.

I definitely didn’t know how much this job would affect me emotionally.

So I’m unsure.

4 thoughts on “A year in California: Reflection time

  1. Alex, congrats on one year in California! And thanks for following Peter’s example and opening up about how the overnight beat has impacted you. You did a great job conveying the emotion and humanity (that’s gotten lost too easily by politicians tossing out “Chicago” like it’s a buzz word) in a difficult beat. The work that you and the overnight team put out helped me–and still helps me–develop a better, fuller understanding and appreciation of my hometown. So thank you for that, too.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Alex. I’ll always be grateful for the work you did here, both as a coworker and a Chicago resident. Those scenes are hard to witness and you did a really fantastic job telling them so eloquently. But I’m glad to see that you’re doing so well enjoying life and sunshine and all the other things that don’t typically come with overnight reporting shifts. Hope everything is well! <3

    1. Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Randi! It was a joy to work with you and everyone else at Tribune. I am also glad to see that you’re doing so well. I love following your blog!

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