Tag Archives: journalism

Three Flights

This post was originally published on Beacon Reader, an experiment in crowdsourced publishing that has subsequently ceased to exist. RIP Beacon Reader. 

Overview: The jet set life is gonna kill you, they said. And it does. But not as much as it prompts me to live. I am not the person I once was, but I am still me, still moving like my brain is the bus from Speed and it can’t go less than 50 mph or it will explode.

 

My trip from a small town in Southern Washington to Germany took 48 hours. I left after Christmas dinner and finally arrived at the CCC conference in Hamburg two full days later. This time felt different from the other times I’ve left “home” to travel abroad. The earth is shrinking. Whereas a journey across the Atlantic was once daunting and suspenseful, this one from NYC to Frankfurt felt routine, like my old subway commute to the Wired office. I wasn’t giddy or afraid, just ready. Maybe it was because I’d already been traveling for 20 hours at that point, from Portland to Seattle, through a 12 hour layover in NYC during which I trudged all the way to my apartment and back just to nap. Maybe because I promptly popped a valium immediately upon ascent, and The Wizard of Oz was playing on the in-flight entertainment. Or maybe, just maybe, because I’m finally beginning to fully integrate into this life in orbit, complete with all its chaos.

The path from Germany to England was turbulent, emotionally. I was flying with the kind of heartbreak that inflames every previous wound at once, because when love left it took with it the hope that it could heal all the rest. Additionally, I was hungover and burnt out from 10 virtually sleepless nights of high-bandwidth conversations with some of the smartest computer security experts and tech activists on the planet, dancing and celebrating life the German way, connecting so very deeply. Then I missed my flight. By five minutes. I’ve never before experienced a slow train in Berlin, but I guess the Germans were all still reeling from their New Year’s activities—which resembled an apocalyptic civil war more than a celebration—because I think I’d have been better off walking to Schipol. Halfway through the train ride, hope had long left my body, but I still ran the entire way to the terminal, rolling all 19.1 kilos of my portable house with me.

When the attendant told me I couldn’t board, my posture dipped in defeat so violently that my shoulder bag fell to the floor. I stepped to the side and excused myself so I didn’t melt into the dirty tile with it, put myself on the next flight three hours later, paid a rebooking fee that cost more than the original ticket, and scrambled to communicate with my host in London over shoddy WiFi. When I rolled past the attendant once more, I gave her an apologetic smile, mumbling something about a breakup so she didn’t worry I might be too crazy to fly. I’m sure she’s used to this kind of thing. What an unenviable job. The whole way there I lamented the aspects of my lifestyle that made this situation unavoidable. By the time I landed I came to terms with them, supposing that some of those same wild bits are the ones that led me there, to him and the whole whirlwind, and to such a recklessly genuine exploration in human connectivity in the first place.

Photographed with permission at the Howard Griffin Gallery, London.

I left London feeling I had accomplished all I set out to do in a short week there, including reevaluating my life. London is beginning to have that effect on me, with all its rule-followers and closed circuit cameras despite an underlair bubbling with dissent. There was a day when I wondered if I had reached my quota of traveling—if I should throw in the towel and go find a little cabin in the woods to go soak my aching bones and start building something resembling “stability.” Does living this way reach a point of diminishing returns? I was greeted with snuggles and tea from someone very special to me who lives with one foot in each world. She reminded me that we are something of a different breed—we, the ones who have dubbed ourselves travelers, journalists, who have chosen to reject modern stability in order to bear witness to the events of the world. Maybe the most we can hope for in love is getting to collide momentarily with the ones who inflame our greatest desires as well as fears, occasionally getting to roll along together for a brief moment in time. How could that kind of all-consuming love keep up when one is moving so fast? I conspired with my confidante and we held each other close in our arms, hearts and minds, knowing we oscillate on the same wavelength.

Brick Lane street art

One day, after prowling around Brick Lane with one of my most liberated and perceptive artist friends, overdosing on chocolate in the shop where he was resident artist and overindulging in esoteric musings about the artistic condition, I began to wonder if I was somehow cheating at life. Some experiences I encounter living the way that I do—lately they feel like they’re more than people are supposed to experience across an entire lifetime, but crammed into a week. Hunter S. Thompson once wrote of the edge:

“The Edge…There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others-the living-are those who pushed their control as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later. But the edge is still Out there.”

As the farmlands of Surrey blurred by in the train window on the way to Gatwick airport, I wondered if at some point I did step over the edge, making life exponential in all its tragedies and ecstasies. Can one come back from going over the edge? Maybe I don’t know it at all, and this is just aging. Sometimes I wonder if I was supposed to die a long time ago, and if this state of hyper-intense living is some kind of weird artifact, like a bonus level in a video game. Or maybe my senses have just been so pummeled by the world that I am doomed to feel disproportionately.

Leaving London, I supposed I would allow myself to be life’s punching bag as long as it keeps serving me pellets of bliss occasionally. That was what being with him in Germany was, and it was worth all the subsequent discomfort of withdrawal from all the top-shelf chemicals his presence released in me.

Above the clouds, I reminisced on meeting David Hoffman, a visionary photographer who captured iconic images during protests in the 70s and of social movements all over the world. You might imagine people who carry memories of the most violent outbursts of human injustice around with them to be scary and stoic, broken and curdled by the things they’ve seen and learned, but it’s often quite the opposite. He radiated cheer and curiosity; out of every pore spilled a “fuck it” to life attitude, reminding me that sometimes the only smart option to take when working within the confines of a corrupt system is to cheat by not playing their game. Why not follow one’s artistic drive and play for the easter eggs, snatching every morsel of meaning in life? I asked him how he trained in his youth so he wouldn’t be harmed in the process of creation. “Oh, I’ve had my teeth knocked out, scars…” He chuckled. “Photography is a contact sport, the way I do it. I just got lucky.”

I comfortably boarded my British Airlines flight to Amsterdam, which was calm like the Tube usually is due to a mixture of British politeness and awkwardness. I spent the last half hour of the flight trying desperately to contain my delight while reading the opening of Cat’s Cradle. How comforting to know a writer like Kurt Vonnegut once existed with all his observational powers and methods of transforming facts into evergreen lessons for humanity! Tears of laughter forced their way through my eyes and I sat, discretely gasping for air, struggling to maintain my composure under the sideways scrutiny of curious British eyes. What could possibly be funny while crammed into a metal box hurling through the sky? Everything. Everything! All the emotions densely packed into 2016 so far burst in effervescent bubbles of laughter, and I’m sure the other passengers thought I was already high. But I waited until I was safely and legally in a coffee shop in the heart of Amsterdam for that.

Until next time,

Arikia

Altering course

space

I had dinner with an amazing couple in their 70s tonight, a former NASA scientist from Turkey and an English teacher from Tennessee. They’ve had so much time to read books and process information about everything from ancient civilizations to the cosmos, and it was an honor to sit across the dinner table with them and observe them delight in teaching me so many things I didn’t know. So much of what I’ve been doing with my life these past few years has involved managing, teaching, editing other people—and that’s been important work that I’m glad I did and wouldn’t trade. But I’m 28 and I don’t know enough to be teaching people all the time. I need to balance the teaching with learning from those who are older and wiser than me. The reason I got into journalism in the first place was to enable myself to continuously learn. The fact that I write things down for other people to read is really just a byproduct of my own quest for knowledge; it is as much an exhibitionistic display of my ability to synthesize the nuggets of information I gather as it is a compulsion of civic duty—because it sure isn’t for the money. Observing the current trajectory of the journalism industry, it having been pressured by capitalistic forces to all but abandon the pursuit of knowledge in exchange for the factory farming of entertainment, I am starting to think that I need to find another outlet in which I can funnel my skills and creativity.

Ideas welcome.

Cismetropolitan

I’ve been reading Transmetropolitan again. It’s about a cynical bastard named Spider Jerusalem who also happens to be an a cutthroat gonzo journalist. He tried to retreat into hermitage in the mountains but the city keeps drawing him back. He loathes it, but he loves to loathe it. It is the seething hatred for all that is fucked up with America that inspires him. The way it’s on display here, ungracefully strewn about the city streets and exposed for all to step around on their daily commutes fuels his pursuits — that and the loads of futuristic uppers he inhales.

SpiderJerusalem

On Friday I had drinks underneath Grand Central with a man who is something of a real life Spider Jerusalem. He collects knives and has the best fake “go fuck yourself” smile I have ever seen — a necessary adaptation for people who are acutely sensitized to bullshit. We sat amongst the oyster-sucking white-collar commuters, talking about fear, throwing back martinis and refilling them with the sidecars. He told me he was glad I’ve been taking on the fear that used to hold me back from writing. “It’s like Oz,” he said, “you had the power all along, my dear. You could have gone home whenever you wanted.” He warned me though, that I need to keep chipping away at the fear every day, lest I become one of the could’ve-beens. There are not many people who could tell me that without me telling them to go fuck themselves, but coming from him I appreciated it.

I thought about this all night, mourning all the could’ve-beens I know, and woke up this morning with my brow furrowed. It’s been that way ever since, save a few hours of solace I found at the Met this evening. I wrote in my head all day long, formulating the phrases that I would later find the time to transcribe, trying to sear them into my mind. I was being beckoned in three different directions but I went to see Side Effects by myself instead. Twenty minutes into the feature, a man stood up and vomited in the aisle right next to me, repeatedly. I moved up a few rows, thinking that there would have to be something in the movie to top the everyday crazy I witness in New York, but the vomiting was the highlight of the movie.

Afterward, I ducked into the subway at Union Square looking forward to waiting for the L train since I had Transmetropolitan with me to read. On the platform, a man was standing in one of the typical performance art spaces with his back against the stairwell. He had two balloons, a pink one above his head and a purple one between his knees, and was slowly releasing the air out of them both, along with two high-pitched squeals.

“Is this guy seriously doing this?” a plain-looking guy said near me to no one in particular.

“You must be new here,” I said back in his general direction.

I leaned against a pillar and watched this performance art. He looked about my age, and was skinny enough that you could see the outline of his ribcage through his grey shirt. Beside him there was a cardboard sign with “fuck the police” scrawled over and over in black marker and a box with various dirty objects sticking out. I wondered if he was crazy or just an artist, then reminded myself there’s really no difference and instead tried to tell if he was on drugs or suffering. When the balloons ran out of air, he placed a harmonica in his mouth and began breathing through it in a repetitive tune. He placed a mask over his head that made him look like a neon pink fly, and removed various baby doll parts. The head rolled out into the middle of the platform, and he dove onto the filthy floor to get it, crawling like an alien or the little girl from The Ring as she climbs out of the well.

Then, obviously, he crawled over to me. For a split second I thought he might be an alien because his hand looked twisted in an inhuman way, but I realized he just had a baby doll foot stuck akimbo on his thumb. He was at my feet, crawling his dirty baby doll hand towards my shoe. The woman next to me ran away, but I didn’t move. It was then I noticed his hands were rubbed raw at some parts, bright pink inner layers of skin exposed. I considered the possibility that perhaps this was his first and last act of performance art, and that he his goal was actually to select one lucky observer to hurl onto the subway tracks a few feet behind me. He touched the top of my shoe, and I stepped back. He looked at me through his fly eyes. Spider Jerusalem would have kicked him in the face. I just shook my head to indicate there was no consent on my behalf. He did a back somersault across the dirty platform, baby head in ragged hand. He rolled around to other people that way for a while. When the train came, I wanted to give him a dollar for disturbing me more than anyone else on the subway ever has, but I didn’t have one, so I got on the train and resumed reading Transmetropolitan.

Lara Logan: Former, present, future role model

When I first heard about Lara Logan, I was a senior in college. My journalism mentor was a New York Times war correspondent reporting out of Baghdad in the height of the Iraq war. We would talk on AIM and he would tell me about the horrific things he’d seen that day, like a defense contractor shooting a dog and nobody having the proper medical equipment to treat it, so they had to Surran-wrap its guts back in as life-support. I’d tell him about the insignificant drama of life at the college newspaper.  He probably thought it was as stupid as I do now looking back on it, but he must have appreciated the opportunity to mentally escape from his surroundings.

I decided that I wanted to do what he did. I was taking Arabic classes in college and learning everything I could about reporting from a war zone. But it all seemed improbable. One day I asked him how the hell I was supposed to do that being a woman who typically gets harassed just walking down the street because of the way I look. He told me it was possible, and that I had to be professional and not take shit from anyone. Then he told me to look up Lara Logan, and said if she could do it, I could.

I was amazed by her. She’s undeniably gorgeous, which at the ripe old age of 20, I’d learned could be detrimental for women in my industry. I watched all of her interviews on YouTube, noticing how some male interviewers would become visibly flustered while talking to her, while others would approach her with seemingly unfounded aggression. It’s always been quite obvious to me that men will step out of their way to make your academic, professional, or social life a special kind of hell if they are attracted to you and can’t express it in an institutionally accepted way. I read about how news stations wouldn’t air some of Lara’s well-researched content about street fighting in Iraq, citing that it was too “controversial” for the news, and remember thinking in the back of my mind that it was probably because some senior editor had a hard on for her, and was punishing her because that was the only way he knew how to behave.

Yet she carried herself with class and spoke with authority and conviction, and never allowing anyone to interrupt her while she was speaking in an interview.

I wanted to be like her when I grew up, and I still do.

When people say she was “asking for” the beating and sexual assault she incurred on her last trip to Egypt, simply by going to a place where there may have been a higher possibility of such a thing occurring,  it sickens me. That’s saying that pretty women should know men want to fuck them, and should just avoid all situations where someone might not have the frontal lobe capacity to control themselves. When really, the emphasis should be on getting men to control their violent impulses and punishing the ones who don’t.

Lara was in Egypt doing her job, a job that she did better than almost everyone else in the industry, man or woman.

For people who go into potentially dangerous situations to report, which I have done before and will do again, there is always the knowledge that something could happen to you. I live in Brooklyn, I know something could happen to me walking down the street at any given moment. But you keep going back, and you keep putting yourself in those situations because you know you can. And you know that somebody has to, or nobody will. Somebody has to get those stories out, so you risk your life and you risk your sanity, and every time you come out of it unscathed you say, yeah, I just fucking did that and it wasn’t so bad, even though you know that it could have been.

Everyone lives life knowing that bad things could happen, but that they probably won’t. And when they do, it is devastating. I am devastated for Lara, and wouldn’t wish physical and sexual violence on anyone, ever—especially someone who is doing such a noble job by risking her life so that other people can have information about a situation they wouldn’t understand otherwise. But we can’t look at what happened to her and conclude that it’s too dangerous for women to be out there reporting, just as we can’t look at the dozens of journalists who were killed in Iraq and close up the bureaus there.

Lara Logan is a role model of mine and always will be. She knew what the risks associated with her job were and accepted them, and unfortunately encountered the ugly side of humanity in a chaotic situation. But people shouldn’t for a second put this on her, or blame her for the decisions that she made. It is the criminals who assaulted her who are at fault. End of story. I only hope that her situation will serve to prevent such crimes from occurring, not to make women who would do what Lara did want to stay home. I won’t stay home.

The death toll numbers game

When the first earthquake hit Haiti the evening of January 12, my eyes were glued to Google News, scanning every article as it was picked up by Google’s search spiders and pushed into the feed. When I heard the first description of where the epicenter of the quake hit — 15 miles southwest of Port-Au-Prince — I knew the population in that area would be decimated. Driving through there with my dad this summer, I would stare out the window marveling at the dense concentration of people and wondering what life was like for them.

So I was rather shocked when I heard the first death toll estimate on Tuesday evening: Dozens Feared Dead As Buildings Collapse. Either my conception of a 7.0 earthquake was distorted by Hollywood, or that was a sorely conservative estimate.

Over the next 24 hours, the death toll estimate incrementally increased as it was reported by various publications:

Hundreds Feared Dead in Haiti Earthquake (ABC News)

Haiti Earthquake: Thousands Feared Dead (CBS News)

Then Haiti’s consul general to the U.N., Felix Augustin, threw out the 100,000 estimate, while at the same time President Druval was citing other estimates between 30,000 and 50,000 and told CNN “It’s too early to give a number.” Now the estimate wavers between the tangible yet likely conservative 200,000 dead and the more elusive “hundreds of thousands“.

It is clear that we will never know how many people died in the Haitian earthquakes. Between the way that bodies had to be disposed of in mass graves without documentation, the most anyone can do is to interview people months from now and try to make a list of all the people who were never seen again by their families.

But what we can know, and need to know now, is how many people are currently dying in Haiti. How many people are still trapped beneath the rubble, clinging to life? How many people have escaped immediate harm and are now in need of water and food, but unable to access these resources due to infrastructure collapse from the Earthquake?

Most importantly, how many people are currently in the care of the medical teams but are dead and dying because planes full of medical supplies are being diverted from the Port-au-Prince airport, or because the supplies that have been delivered are just sitting there instead of being delivered to the make-shift hospitals and triage centers where they can be used?

According to the news media as of today, that number is “at least five”. And accurate though that may be, it downplays the severity of the situation.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, we have seen nothing but conservative estimates from reporters. I understand the desire of the media to stick to tradition and only report facts that are confirmed by primary sources, but when their ability to get those facts is limited by geographical, technological, and other constraints, some other kind of estimation and prediction is in order. Otherwise, the picture that gets painted is one that is misleading. Whether it is out of journalistic precautiousness or laziness that reliable estimates are not being formed and delivered to the public, nothing can justify downplaying the urgency of the situation.

Instead of waiting for some political figure to pull a number out of his ass to publish it, why don’t journalists on the ground in Haiti use their own logic and abilities to get information and assemble their own stats. Nobody is going to die from an educated overestimate, but several people might die from the status quo.

Full circle in the fall

I am sitting in the control station at the Internet Garage, surrounded by computer monitors. I haven’t worked here since January but the manager was going out of town and asked if I wanted to pick up shifts, so I said sure, if for no other reason than that I’m always looking for excuses to avoid going out Friday nights. But this place has its charm. It’s good to be back in IT, troubleshooting and giving people the most precious gift of all: Internets. Well, selling it to them for exorbitant rates, but whatever.

It’s also a bit strange to be back here. For one, because people are all like “O hey the IG girl is back!” (I’m the only girl who has worked here in the past ~2 years). But also because things have kind of come full circle. The fall is when that kind of thing usually happens for me. I mean, this is where it all started. I was sitting in this very seat when I made my first WordPress account, when I pressed publish on my first blog post. The IG customers were the first to hear my exclamations of glee when I saw what a link from the New York Times website could do for the traffic of a quirky, small-time culture blog (an old pseudonymous one, not TMD). And it was working here that I collected the dozens of hilarious remnants I occasionally post in the Found series on here.

I guess this is also where I decided that the blogosphere was something that I wanted to be deeply involved with, as a writer and as a Web 2.0 technophile. When I was in college and an editor on my school newspaper, I used to be skeptical of the blogosphere and its ability to provide rewards for the writer, professionally and financially. I once even made a facebook group called “Fuck blogging. My thoughts are worth $$”. Yes yes, while you may know me now as a major blog enthusiast and proponent of Open Access, Open Science, and the idea that the web is changing journalism as we know it for the *way* better, I admit I had my curmudgeonly moments. But this was back when Twitter was saturated with the breakfast-describer variety and it was a rarity to encounter people over 40 on the Facebook. It’s funny how things change.

There really isn’t a purpose to this post other than reflection…