Saturday, August 17, 2013

Alaska Journalism

 ***  this is a piece of a 10,000 word essay that serves as a summary for My Dilemma*** 

 From the day I was inducted into UC Berkeley’s class of 2011, I was informed that its name alone automatically escalated my social status. Whether we were military veterans, trust fund babies, or the determined offspring of impoverished families getting by on scholarships and financial aid, we all shared one commonality. As we spent our days analyzing the racism and sexism of advertising and the social construct of gender, we floated in a fog of intellectual arrogance. Our educators did not inform us of the deteriorating economy. We were not notified that America’s work industry had flip-flopped on us. We didn’t know that so many once promising career paths had become dead ends, while the blue-collar positions we once considered ourselves superior to were suddenly the safer routes. 
We graduated with the knowledge that we’d done everything right. Then, reality was harsh and abrupt when job opportunities didn’t unfold for such noteworthy scholars. Some traveled abroad. Those with wealthy parents pursued graduate school to further avoid the workforce. The ones with connections gladly took what they could get and the rest found themselves at the Gap, Guitar Center, or unpaid social media interns updating corporate Twitter accounts. I initially wowed everyone when I impulsively hauled myself to Anchorage, Alaska and landed a spot as a television reporter within 2 weeks. Within another month, I was bound by contract and made daily appearances on live television. My parents shared my videos among friends and glowed with pride of the survivor they created. I was Maggie Young, the girl who always landed on her feet.
            I arrived in Alaska in August of 2011 with my 2001 Dodge Neon stuffed to the roof with all my possessions and Dasher, my black French bulldog, atop a throne of pillows and luggage in my passenger’s seat. The chunky, big-eared canine, who looked like a mix between a bat and a pig, had been my companion since I left the Navy. For 5 years, Dasher belonged to my mother. He clung to her, following her around incessantly and snarled at anyone who came near her if he was in his guardian position atop her lap. Although he loved everyone during puppyhood, my little brother began to tease and torture him, eventually making Dasher unpredictably aggressive. He especially hated men and growled like a dragon at the threat of masculinity. Then my parents spontaneously bought a large American Bulldog puppy without research. The two alpha breeds clashed, snapping and attacking one another on a daily basis. Once the American Bulldog grew into 50 lb. maturity, Dasher’s life was on the line. I took Dasher in with a scarred ear, scratched body, and bruised emotions. The role my mother played in his life immediately transferred to me. I was his person. His days were spent dozing on my bed and I grew used to his frumpy gallops whenever I arrived home. He began letting people approach him on our walks and eventually rubbed his head against random strangers for pats.  
            The two of us bonded as fellow debris from my parents’ impulse decisions. He came into my life during a time of isolation. My world was cramped studio apartments among books and my laptop.  Often, it was Dasher’s warm, snoring body curled against mine that prevented chronic loneliness. He wasn’t a high maintenance dog. He didn’t require long walks and his hefty, stubby body had little energy for fetch. But he craved my company. His happiest days were spent in my college apartment with me on my laptop, him sunbathing in front of of my wide open door and occasionally getting up to munch on the basil planted along the outside walkway.
            Together, we lived in San Diego, Long Beach, Berkeley, and Alaska. We drove across the United States 5 times and were embarking on our journey through Canada and to the last frontier.
            I remember enthusiastically tackling the 5-day, 4,000-mile drive. I soaked in the ever-evolving environments that began with sweltering humidity that gradually cooled to arid, nighttime breezes. I enjoyed the isolation. I relished in the panic of reaching a quarter tank of gas without signs of human life. My heart nearly jumped through my throat when I spotted bears, mountain goats, moose, and bison shuffling through the snowcapped mountains atop emerald glacier lakes. Everyone I know who had touched Alaskan ground warned me that I would fall in love. Like any whirlwind romance, my first year with the last frontier defined our relationship. We would either unite in permanent matrimony, or I would end up cold, embittered, and fleeing.
Like any new lover, Alaska was initially intoxicating. Every outdoor view at any angle detonated the greatest natural beauties of the lower 48. Alaska’s grass was greener, air fresher, skies bluer, with jagged, bellowing mountains that brushed the clouds and swallowed the earth they stood on. I was fascinated by the midnight sunsets that smeared the heavens with purples, oranges, yellows, pinks, and reds like an infinite watercolor. I was invigorated by the sunrises that motivated me with 4 a.m. starts to my days. I found the tackiness of downtown Anchorage endearing with grey, industrial blandness of a city that was necessary, but awkward with urban living like a scrappy tomboy forced to wear a frilly gown to church. I adored Alaska’s role as an American outcast, technically bound to its country but geographically far enough to become its own planet. The rules were different. Road lanes were wild guesses and improvisations in the winter. Snow boots were fashionably acceptable year round. Guns were not a threat, but merely an accessory more common than a wristwatch. You were a fool to leave a bag of garbage outside and deserved to be jailed for throwing an apple core into a stream. Nearly 4 times the size of Texas with a population of 200 thousand outside of Anchorage’s 300 thousand, Alaska was a place of true desolation. It harbored communities that still lived off the land and functioned without indoor plumbing. It was a place where a few ill prepared stumbles off a path were a death sentence. True Alaskans knew that nature was their king and they bowed to it like obedient citizens. But my favorite part of Alaska was the stories behind its residents. Nobody just wandered into Alaska. They were either chasing something or being chased by someone. Alaska was either an adventure or a refuge- nothing in between.
Alaska and I harmonized quite well in the beginning. I got along with my roommates. I loved my job. I spent my first weekend shooting guns, sloshing through mud on a dirt bike, and guzzling beer alongside grizzly ex convicts eating moose burgers.  But my fate ran parallel to the seasons. I faced one of the most brutal Alaskan winters in recorded history. Days shortened, leaves fell, the green earth shriveled, and a frigid gust kept me stoic. When I fell out with my soldier in October, I lost my best friend and security blanket I’d truly grown addicted to.
At 26, I had a slew of failed mini-relationships on my track record, but the end of the soldier and I was more traumatizing than the loss of my virginity. When we broke, it was if I’d hit my head along the fall and permanently paralyzed a piece of myself. The part of my brain that craved intimacy shut down. My sex drive depleted. I spent the rest of my time in Alaska mourning.  
There was nothing wrong with the way I looked, but I was in pain. I medicated with self-loathing. My boss feasted on distilled water and considered herself morbidly obese after coming in second in a bikini competition. Her sickness was contagious and I was vulnerable. I channeled my sorrow into my body. I was taken under the wing of a crossfit trainer whose name brought chills to even the most steroid jacked body builders. We began working out 6 days a week. He was brutal. He was insulting. He spent sessions pointing out flaws, name calling, and ranting about his disgust with fat America and Democrats. His presence felt like being in a room naked in fluorescent lighting where I could see every fat roll, ripple, and chip of cellulite on my ass. He was a harsh slap in the face.  He cut my calorie content to 1400, then 1200, then and 1000, then finally to 800. I relapsed to my childhood anorexia. I got slightly thinner, but not dramatically. I plateaued. He told me to skip meals. He recommended I starve myself for full days. I obeyed. My period disappeared. My energy diminished. I awoke at 5 am to face the blistering winter, scrape the fresh glacier that swallowed my car overnight, and drove to the gym to face a storm much harsher than any arctic blizzard. I worked. I collapsed. I did it all over again. I did it to avenge the man who didn’t deserve my desire to avenge him. I did it because I truly believed that I would not be able to stand myself until I was a Barbie doll. I did it because the more attractive a woman is, the kinder the world treats her. I did it because torturing myself brought on a physical agony severe enough to distract me from my emotion.
   The irony of being an Alaska journalist was that my relationship with the news was the same as my relationship with the last frontier.
I never gave a shit about the media. I didn’t tune into breaking CNN headlines with eager anticipation. I didn’t idolize history’s influencers like Nelly Bly, Hunter S. Thompson, or Edward R. Murrow. At 15, I decided to become a journalist because it was a socially acceptable way to be an attention whore. I was never passionate about storytelling. I was passionate about hearing myself tell the stories. I never truly loved journalism just as I never truly loved Alaska. But, for one delusional, exhausting year, I was madly in love with loving them.
With every internship, every college semester, and every collaboration with every advisor, I was cautioned that journalism was dying.
“It’s not the way it used to be,” the warned me. “The digital age has destroyed print media and television will follow. Nobody waits until 6 pm to get the news when they can just log onto their smartphones.”
The news may still operate, but it’s malnourished. Budgets are cut. Employees are laid off. What used to be a reporter is a “one man band,” a writer, editor, photographer, and broadcaster working several jobs for one shit salary.
But the strange thing about the field is the condensed level of aspiring Woodward and Bernstein’s still shuffling and clawing their way to snag their place at the butt of a dead end.
There is something endearingly noble about a newsy awaking in the middle of the night to jet to a disaster. They do it on a paycheck worth a lifetime of ramen noodles and roommates. They live each day in a restless, on-call panic of a police officer, but face snarls and backlash instead of heroic praise. Their job isn’t glamorous, but there is glamour in its lack of glamor. True journalists are just like true Alaskans. They take immense pride in soldiering through severe climates, muck, and chaos. They brave their frontiers like grand cavaliers with worship and affection for a world that belongs to another time. They live like they do for their affair with a lost cause.
            A career in journalism is like a marriage to a Tetraplegic. It requires around the clock backbreaking work and emotional turmoil with little in return. With the exception of the occasional Emmy or back pat, journalism won’t embrace you when you’re sad or give you multiple orgasms when you’re horny. If you’re doing it right, you’re devoting your life to it. You have to wholeheartedly love it to dodge the temptation of suicide.
            My love for journalism was superficial. Vanity was my motivation. I often wonder how many others were secretly just like me. The humble do not enthusiastically strive to have their images appear before the masses. I believe that deep down, most of us lived a charade. Our spouse was the news. Our mistress was our egos.  
            The United States has approximately 200 news media markets, with number one being New York, New York and Number 200 being Bumble Fuck, Montana. Even though Anchorage, Alaska is at the Podunk level of 150, like every other aspect, it’s an entire entity of its own. The low population and isolated location plagues its residents with big fish in little pond syndrome. It’s easy to doggie paddle an entire puddle.  As a measly small-town local news reporter, I knew the Mayor, Governor, and Senators. I worked alongside old friends of Alaska’s mascot, Sarah Palin.  Alaskans are more arrogant about their independence than Texas. They show little interest in national media unless it directly affects Alaska. Therefore, residents actually gave a fuck about their news media. We were dubbed local celebrities and, despite our poverty, developed delusions of grandeur.
            There were three main stations in Alaska: Channel 2, Channel 11, and the awkwardly titled “Your Alaska Link.” We were competitors, but we functioned like one high school instead of separate rival entities.  Channel 2 was the homecoming king with rich parents. Channel 11 was that kid who lived in a trailer park, but played sports so was occasionally invited to parties with the cool crowds. My station, “Your Alaska Link”, was the geeky adolescent who smelled like cheese and publically ate the zits he popped.    
Our bathrooms never worked. Our building’s moldy floors were on the brink of collapse. Our studio, a horrendous blob of sky blue, looked like a Care Bear holocaust.
Our ceilings were water stained and rotting. Our general manager sold our only live truck for a Hummer.  The other stations tuned in to poke fun of our muscle Barbie news director and reporter whose on-camera performance led you to believe that he had Down syndrome.
I wish I could have appreciated my station just as I wish I’d appreciated my status as a juvenile outcast. We weren’t beautiful, but we were humble. In a profession soaked in narcissism, envy, and an obligation to scratch, bite, and claw our way for survival, we actually liked each other. In lacking quality, we were also spared the passive aggressive, back stabbing cattiness that was blatant among the popular crowd.
In middle and high school, I was never satisfied with my mediocre rank. My lunch breaks were spent discreetly studying the popular kids to pick apart the ingredients that created their hierarchy on the social food chain. I bleached my hair with Sun-In. I blew my savings on Abercrombie& Fitch. I tanned my skin crispy. I starved myself ragged.
There was no name brand or strategically stuffed bra that would win acceptance, just as there were no networking beers, mentorship requests, or Channel 2 approved news packages that would obtain respect.
In reality, the cool kids were never that cool. In caring all too much about the things that weren’t worth caring about, I created my own kryptonite.
            By junior year, I snapped. I streaked my hair red. I tattooed my chest. I openly loathed the social elite. I became the rebel in the back of the classroom, stoned and often unconscious. Like high school, every day in Alaska was a battle. Then, I snapped.
By the summer thaw, I was a deserter.

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