Notice: This blog is being abandoned

Filed under:random blabbing — posted by Abby on June 16, 2010 @ 10:05 pm

So, as if it wasn’t already fairly obvious, I’m not updating this blog any more. I guess my days of personal blogging are over, for now at least. Mostly, I’ve been too busy to keep up with it, and I’m also not really sure how you appropriately maintain a public personal blog as a journalist without accidentally offending your sources or attracting crazy people. I may at some point put together more of a professional blog. In the meantime, this can stand as an archive of a few years of my life. My circumstances changed a lot along the way. As I’m leaving it, I’ve just spent nine months in Chicago followed by three months in D.C. I finished grad school and have now arrived in Los Angeles, where it looks like I will be reporting for the next couple of years. I’m feeling pretty lucky right now.

Hasta luego.

Another New Year

Filed under:random blabbing — posted by Abby on January 2, 2010 @ 9:51 pm

Over the past few years, I’ve gotten in the habit of writing a reflective, rambling annual New Year’s post. I don’t really feel like it this year. It’s not that 2009 hasn’t been a good year or that things haven’t happened in my life. It has been mostly a pretty great year, and lots of things have happened. You might blame Twitter and Facebook for my reticence, perhaps, because there are limits to my narcissism, and I only need to recap my daily doings and reflections so many times for so many people. Also, I got on an airport shuttle in Washington, D.C., at 4 a.m. this morning, after a whirlwind three weeks that took me through Barstow, Virginia, D.C. and Baltimore, for various sorts of homecomings, Christmas and New Year’s and an old friend’s wedding. The excitement ended with a bout of insomnia that left me running on an hour of sleep this morning, and I spent the rest of the day in various states of quiet fuming, despair and stupor trying to make my way back to Chicago. I finally did arrive intact, but I don’t have much energy left to be clever.

As for New Year’s resolutions, what I need to do this year is pretty straightforward, if easier said than done: finish school and get a good job so that — fun as all this bouncing around the country has been — I don’t have to keep writing these New Year’s posts from a different city each year. I know that I’ll be moving at least once more, and probably twice, in 2010; from Chicago to D.C. for one school term, and then wherever I land after graduation. I would like to situate myself so that I don’t have to uproot again in 2011 unless I land a gig as a foreign correspondent.

There are other things I should do: get back to eskrima, work hard on my Spanish, play and write more music, get up early and go running in the sub-zero Chicago winter air (it builds character). I will probably do most of those things. I will be busy. I hope I will be happy. I will do my best.

Happy New Year.

Better late than never — saving a story from oblivion

Filed under:random blabbing — posted by Abby on October 16, 2009 @ 9:15 pm

I realize that I became terribly spoiled by having an audience for all of my writings when I was a proper reporter with a paycheck instead of a student reporter with massive debt. True, I wrote plenty of turds that I wish no one had seen, and sometimes it just makes me twitchy to know that strangers are scrutinizing my syntax and grasp of current political issues through the looking glass of the computer screen.

But when I actually produce something worthwhile, I like to know that at least a few people besides my mother will see it.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case with this, my final project from last quarter, which profiled Wilfredo De Jesus, the pastor of a powerful evangelical church in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. De Jesus became the center of some controversy after the outgoing alderman, Billy Ocasio, recommended him for the City Council seat. LGBT rights advocates didn’t want someone who believes homosexuality is a sin making city policy. But the pastor does have a lot of support in the heavily Puerto Rican Humboldt Park community for the programs his church has implemented to combat hunger and reach out to gang members and prostitutes.

In the end, De Jesus turned out not to be eligible for the seat, since he was living outside the 26th Ward. But when I wrote the story, he was planning to move back to the ward, and he will remain a political player to watch.

I pitched the piece to a couple of local publications, but it didn’t work out, and by that time, the timeliness had passed. At first I resigned myself to let the story sink into oblivion, but it seems almost a crime to put so much time into something and never allow it to see the light of day — especially in this age, when, if the Internet doesn’t know it happened, it didn’t happen.

So here, very belatedly, is a link to the De Jesus piece.

De Jesus thumbnail

And here’s the companion video that my project partner, Natalie Bailey, produced.

This quarter, for better or for worse, my pieces are going up in public again, although I’m still not sure that anyone besides my mother is reading them on the Medill news site.

Particle accelerator

Filed under:random blabbing — posted by Abby on October 5, 2009 @ 8:08 pm

Particle accelerator

Ceci n’est pas une particle accelerator.

Oh, why was I not a particle physicist? I would live in a bubble and know all the answers to everything. I might not be able to explain in words that the average human would understand, but I would know.

Hello, Chicago

Filed under:random blabbing — posted by Abby on June 13, 2009 @ 10:30 pm

I arrived in Chicago yesterday in a gigantic, red, gas-guzzling 1985 GMC Suburban that is emphatically not the vehicle I left Barstow in. It is now parked on the street across from my new apartment with a dead battery, but at least it got me this far.

Alas, my luck ran out with Lucky, the sky-blue Escort wagon. She carried me, most of my possessions, and the boy I’m leaving behind in Barstow — who came along to make sure I got safely to my new home — 1,000 miles to Fort Morgan, Colorado, before giving out in a dramatic manner. (more…)

Uprooting again

Filed under:random blabbing — posted by Abby on June 2, 2009 @ 4:37 am

It’s 5 a.m. and I haven’t been able to get to sleep despite trying for several hours. Of course, there’s no particular reason for me to go to sleep at any particular time these days, other than for the sake of propriety and in order to not feel like a sluggard. I have been unemployed for a week now. In another week, I will shove all of my wordly goods into my long-suffering Ford Escort wagon (again) and drive nearly 2,000 miles to Chicago, where I will be once again starting over in a new life.

The new life, this time, is graduate school at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, where I’m hoping to hone my skills and learn new ones, make some connections, and hopefully rekindle my excitement about my chosen profession.

I hope this is the right thing to be doing. It has come home to me these last few months that I don’t have all the time in the world. I’ll be 27 in a month — the age when the rock stars die — and there’s only so much time left when I will still be hungry enough to uproot myself for a new prospect, chasing a chance at glory or just a good story to tell later. I might want to settle down one day, gather moss, get married, even reproduce.

I will honestly miss Barstow — the bleak expanses of desert, the run-down motels of East Main Street and truck stops in Lenwood, and the people — especially the people. But it’s not the place to stay long if you want to make a career, not my career anyway. A few years ago, it would have been ideally positioned. I would have put in my year here and moved up to one of the bigger papers “down the hill,” as Barstonians call everything below the Cajon Pass. But those papers have all been shedding reporters like snakeskin, and the ladder that was once readily available is not there now.

So here we go again. Once I arrive in Chicago, I know I’ll be excited and interested in the new scenery, projects and people I will find. But right now I’m allowing myself the luxury of being tired, a little bit melancholy and a little bit dubious about the future.

Barstow anniversary

Filed under:random blabbing — posted by Abby on March 5, 2009 @ 5:51 pm

Today is my one year anniversary of being in Barstow, or at least, of working for the Desert Dispatch. You can congratulate me, slap me upside the head and call me a fool, or buy me a drink.


Dude, where’s my newspaper?

Filed under:random blabbing — posted by Abby on February 24, 2009 @ 11:14 pm

In the latest round of bad-news-in-the-news-biz, the San Francisco Chronicle and Seattle Post-Intelligencer may soon be out of print.

Like everything else in these past few months, it seems to be a sign of more hardships to come — but how quickly we get used to hearing about hardships. Most of us, I think, take it for granted now that there will be more and more bad news every week.

At least all the bad news about newspapers gives reporters an excuse to write for an audience that still reads them and cares what happens to them — other reporters.

The death of print media is sad, as most deaths are, even of old and tired creatures. But I’m still young enough that I don’t feel the need to cling to the past. I’m not going to yell, “Get a horse!” at the world, the way people used to in the early days of the automobile. We need to stop wringing our hands and learn to adapt.

Reporting isn’t going away. In the future, we may have online media centers rather than the traditional print/radio/TV divide. I don’t know how the market will pay for the people who will staff those media centers, but if there is a need and a desire, there will be a way. If I knew what that way might be, I would be a rich woman.

In the meantime, only the dedicated and the crazy and those who, like me, are in love with lost causes, will stick around the news biz. This is certain, though — I’m not going anywhere.

Another year

Filed under:random blabbing — posted by Abby on January 1, 2009 @ 8:09 pm

I remember last New Year’s Eve very well for several reasons, not least of which is the brawl I almost got into with some party crashers who showed up at my friend Brian’s annual New Year’s soiree and began pushing people around. But more importantly, I remember that the idea of Barstow germinated that day.

I was working for the twice-weekly paper in Molalla at the time and itching to move up to bigger and better things. I browsed through the jobs posted on after work on New Year’s Eve and came across an opening for a reporter at a daily in Barstow, California. There were several things that immediately attracted me. It was a small paper and therefore attainable. It was a gritty-sounding desert town, which reminded me of my youth in Tucson, for better or worse, and the ad had a scrappy and slightly humorous tone. I liked the look of their Web site. I decided I would compile my clips the next day.

At Brian’s house that night, I told an acquaintance that I was thinking of applying for a job in some Southern California town called Barstow, which I had never heard of until I saw the job posting.

The acquaintance knew about Barstow. He had been stranded there once for three days in the middle of the summer.

“Oh, God,” he said. “Don’t go to Barstow. It’s a terrible place.”

Terrible places have interesting news, I reasoned, and I sent my clips and resume out the next day.

I spent New Year’s Eve in Barstow this year. It’s not a terrible place. I have been as happy and unhappy, in alternating stages, here as I was in Portland or Molalla or Tucson, and as much as I probably would be anywhere. It’s true what they say; wherever you go, you take yourself with you, although I do find that a change of venue sometimes brings new clarity and certainly offers new experiences that can improve your underlying state of being.

I didn’t try to fight anyone this year. I did drink tequila and listened to some drunken love advice from a stranger. The people of Barstow are a good bunch to spend New Year’s with. They are straightforward, friendly, and they love to party. I had thoughts of going to Vegas, but in the end, I’m glad that I rang in the new year in the place where I spent most of the old one.

I like New Year’s resolutions. They appeal to the half of me that is a Type A personality, and they give it ammunition to bludgeon my irresponsible other half.

I think 2009 is the year of the pragmatic optimist. We know that we are screwed but have hope that something better can come out of it. We are not slaves to dogma. We’ll try whatever might work. I think those facets of the national psyche contributed to the election results in November. Obama spoke about change, but he also seemed level-headed, practical.

So 2009 is a year for me to be hopeful yet pragmatic as well. I will focus one honing the skills I already have, paying attention to detail, and not accepting “good enough.” I will concentrate on some of the facets of adult living that still elude me after more than eight years of taking care of myself, such as preventative maintenance rather than putting out fires. I will get my oil changed and make dentist appointments. I will keep my sights on the big picture but focus on the details in the meantime.

Not the most lofty of goals, but if I can keep to them, 2009 will be a good year.

Happy New Year, y’all.

Hello, sanity

Filed under:random blabbing, Journalism and politics, Barstow — posted by Abby on December 3, 2008 @ 8:56 pm

I woke up this morning, for the first time in ages, with no feeling of panic. Why? Because I am no longer the only reporter in Barstow.

Since our city editor left the paper three weeks ago, I had been left to fill the news section of the paper every day on my own. Photos, articles, crime, city, education, military, everything. By the end, my brain was in so many different places that I thought I would go insane.

Of course, every newspaper in the country is pretty much short-staffed right now, but putting out a daily paper with one reporter is pretty extreme even considering the current state of journalism.

But this week, our two new, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed reporters started on staff, and I suddenly found myself with room to breathe again. Not only that, but I moved over to the city beat, which, despite being less action-packed than the crime beat, also carries a little less stress. Or at least involves less odd hours and less people on drugs calling to yell at you, I imagine. I’m not sure yet, but I imagine that will be the case.

It feels good being able to breathe again.

Goodbye, Grandpa Sewell

Filed under:random blabbing — posted by Abby on October 4, 2008 @ 1:09 pm


In a post about a year ago, I wrote about my grandpa, John Robert “Bob” Sewell, and his claim to fame, a tombstone in Disney’s Haunted House. At the time, he was still alive and well, and the tombstone was a joke between him and the other Disney employees who worked on designing that ride back in the day.

Grandpa Sewell died yesterday morning. I hear it was peaceful. He was a good man, and many of my early impressions of what constitutes a happy existence came from him. When I was very small, we took family trips to his ranch-style house in little Rainbow, CA, where he lived with his dogs and cats, shelves full of books and art pieces from around the world. (more…)

Sights of summer

Filed under:random blabbing — posted by Abby on June 15, 2008 @ 6:33 pm

It’s summer in Southern California, and nothing says “summer” quite like a gray-haired man in buttless chaps skinning a catfish by the side of a river.

I witnessed such an individual in Victorville yesterday. Mind you, Victorville is not the type of place where you generally find eccentrics wandering the streets — that would be Barstow’s province — but this was a special occasion, being the Huck Finn’s Jubilee bluegrass festival. I can’t imagine a less fitting place to hold such a festival than Victorville, which is not in any way, shape or form rustic, quaint, quirky or literary — in fact, it should probably be the poster child for the phrase “suburban wasteland,” with its thrown-together expanses of strip malls and abysmal traffic. But it happens to have a large park with a river with actual water in it, which I suppose is reason enough to have a festival there. (more…)


Filed under:random blabbing — posted by Abby on June 12, 2008 @ 6:54 pm

When I read that Snowball the famous deer is bound for a petting zoo today, I cocked my head and smiled nostalgically at the computer screen. Weirdly enough, the custody battle over that deer turned out to be the highest-profile story I got to cover in my Molalla days, and I’ll always look back on her fondly.

I’m not really sorry that I’m not covering the story now, because it did get a little old. But I’m happy to see that Snowball & Co. will continue creating circus-quality entertainment and diversion for the masses (albeit at the taxpayers’ expense) for some time yet.

Not feeling the crunch

Filed under:random blabbing — posted by Abby on May 26, 2008 @ 10:45 pm

There were reports that less people would be traveling this Memorial Day, but I bucked the trend. Even with gas having shot past $4 a gallon and climbing steadily, I was not about to waste a three-day weekend hanging out in Barstow. Instead, I met up with some friends in Lake Havasu City, prompting my Los Angeles-born dad to make fun of me for going native. Apparently going to Lake Havasu on Memorial Day weekend is a stereotypically Southern California thing to do.

“Next thing you know, you’ll be getting a dune buggy,” he said. (more…)

I love the Internet

Filed under:random blabbing — posted by Abby on May 6, 2008 @ 8:40 pm

I officially rejoined the land of the living this weekend — which is to say, my Internet service finally got hooked up. As soon as the installation guy was gone, I ran to my computer as if to a beloved friend recently emerged from a coma.

Suddenly, my lifeline to the greater world was restored. Now I once again have access to instant curiousity satisfaction via Google, online news sites and other useful items, and the hours of pleasant time-wasting afforded by blogs and social networking sites. (more…)

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace