Catherine O’Sullivan “On Coming Full Circle”
Driving back into town, It’s greener than I remember it. My kid says we’ve gotten more rain. Picacho Peak looks like broken beer bottle glass, the sun low on the horizon smooths out the landscape as the saguaros disappear into the shadows.
It’s been 6 years but then what’s a little time between friends? I left Tucson for a bunch of reasons primarily divorce, which is horrible, but what’s even worse-- menopause. In 2009 it seemed like everything was stacked against me, and what with the hot flashes, well, one day I woke up and proclaimed, “As God is my witness I will never be too hot again.” I fled to Seattle.
An interesting town, Seattle. Good music scene—I met some nice people there-- excellent coffee but it rains all the friggin’ time and there were days I pined continually for just a little bit of photosynthetic warmth like a calf pining for its mother. Just break through for a minute, sun. Pretty please with sugar on top.
So I gave Los Angeles a try. Now before anyone jumps to overly harsh conclusions, there was method to my madness. I was born in Hollywood. My mother still lives in the same house she and my father bought on the G.I. Bill in 1957. I wanted to hang with her and see if Thomas Wolf was right, whether it was true that you can never go home again. He was. Going back to L.A. after a 25 year absence was like having momentarily left your seat in a crowded movie theater. When you go back in not only has someone taken your place, but they look at you as though you’re clinically insane having ever imagined it was yours in the first place. I did a lot of things in L.A. Worked as an extra in the movies, met David Duchovny, Antonio Banderas, and had a lovely chat with Fabio, who tried to sell me his new line of vitamins. I worked for a Nazi vegan at a vegetarian restaurant who kept throwing hissy fits because he didn’t like the way I sliced the bell peppers. He was tall, rail thin with anemic blue eyes and too many calcium deposits at the edges of his scraggly, gapped teeth.
Then one day something happened. There I was looking at my Facebook page and a college professor friend was advertising a Master’s program in journalism at USC. He told me he thought I had a swell shot of not just getting in, but getting an Annenberg Fellowship (translation: a full ride including a 20K stipend) because of all the great work I’d done with The Tucson Weekly.
At USC I learned about “The New Journalism,” which mostly has to do with Twitter and blogging. That part I understood well enough; it’s like starting a religion. You do your very best to get as many people as you can to follow you, then via your blog, believe everything you say. They also taught me about “backpack journalism.” This involves installing an expensive program on your computer, getting a camera and some mics, although an I-phone will do, and taking them with you everywhere you go. One of my teachers told me he got his best stuff watching for accidents on the freeway, that once they had it blocked off, walking back up the off-ramp and getting all the footage you want is easy. The police, he said, hardly every bother you because they’re so busy writing tickets and helping the firemen load shattered bits of humanity into ambulances they don’t have the time. Plus, they hate arguing with “the press.” All that pesky First Amendment stuff. Once you’ve got the material, including an interview with a bystander if you can swing it, you get into the back seat of your car, produce a piece and try to flog it to CNN or FOX News. CNN pays better, but FOX buys a lot more of the gory stuff.
But the most interesting thing about “The New Journalism” is that since it’s nearly impossible to get a job in old style journalism now, the focus is on how to write advertising copy. The hitch? You have to convince yourself that what you’re really doing is being “entrepreneurial,” and not selling out. I took a class, well, part of one anyway, called “Monitization and the New Media.” I only went twice, quickly developing severe stomach problems and electing to do an independent study project on Hunter Thompson instead, but in that class they’d have speakers including brokers who pimped out writers to work for corporate publications. Dell, for example, has a monthly “news” publication that explains all the innovations you can stuff between a couple of glossy, polished covers. The professor teaching that class was pretty happy to see the back of me. I kept asking questions like, “what if you want to write something about the corporation or its products that aren’t complimentary?”
By the time my son and I roll into Tucson it is just about dark. We unload the U-haul and after consuming a bag of cheese crackers and a couple of beers, I find my pillow and blanket, feed my dog, and locating the mattress, fall fast asleep. The next morning I remember I’ve got to feed my friend’s cat and as I hit the intersection of Speedway and Alvernon, I watch as a short, stout sixty-ish woman in faded black spandex shorts, a basketball jersey with no bra, a can of Mountain Dew in one hand and a cigarette in the other, crosses in front of me. Nobody looks at her, nobody cares. I am back in Tucson.
I turn the air conditioning up inside my car.