Loitering by the River with Liz Flock

  
0:00
-15:49

Hello everyone, welcome to Loitering, the occasional but lovable traveling mini pod I am currently testing in newsletter format. And today, we are loitering by the river with a very special guest, or rather, two very special guests. Can you please introduce yourself?

Liz Flock — 0:27 : I am Liz Flock, a writer and journalist. I write about gender and justice, and I wrote a book about love and marriage in India called The Heart is a Shifting Sea.

Sonia Paul — 0:39 : Cool, and can you please introduce our other special guest on her behalf?

Liz — 0:44 : And we're also here with Zora, my pup, who's chewing a stick to shreds by the river.

Sonia — 0:50 : Okay, and so where's this river that we're in right now? Can you please situate us, Liz?

Liz — 0:55 : We are in Taos, New Mexico, which for those who don't know is far northern New Mexico, about 45 minutes from the border with Colorado, and about two hours north of Santa Fe.

Sonia : And so how long have you been in Taos? What brought you here?

Liz : I came to Taos after a year on the road. I've worked in DC and New York most of my life and lived in big cities all of my life. And left working at PBS NewsHour, about a year and a half ago, was on the road for a full year trying to do investigative journalism out of a van. That promptly showed that it didn't really work out when, you know, my investigative documents were flying out of the van doors, and at some point, I was sort of like, it's time to get rooted. And along my journeys had passed through New Mexico, which I think is the most beautiful state in America, and probably the most underrepresented in many ways, and got interested in Taos, which is a place with a lot of really rich community of different kinds of people, a lot of creative people, a long history of that, and just a really beautiful place.

Sonia — 2:00 : So, you mentioned something that I wanted to touch on, this idea of being rooted. And so for you, what is being rooted? What does that mean? What does it feel like? What is it supposed to feel like?

Liz — 2:12 : I think in this time in history, so many of us are not rooted. You know, if you think about the baby boomers, our parents' generation, a lot of them stayed in one spot, maybe work the same job for 40 years. And so many of us now are on the move, on the go for our work, or not really able to get settled, searching for the place that is our place. Me, I grew up between different houses, and I feel like I've always been on the move. And that's been what's comfortable to me, but getting older, I think there's more of a sense of like, okay, rooting down would be a good thing to like, plug into a community and give back to that community, but also for journalism and writing, I think, deep thinking and being able to like, really sit with yourself is so important for that work. And in order to be able to do that, I think you really need to root down to one spot. I just think that's really key.

Sonia — 3:05 : This idea of rooting down to one spot and being with yourself. I mean, your experience working out of Taos versus working out of DC or these other cities, how big of a role do you think does the actual environment play into all of this, versus a person's own mental, emotional, maybe one could also say spiritual, state of mind?

Liz — 3:25 : I actually think it plays a big role. I think people are really shaped by places. Like, you know, you often hear people say, like, where are you from? And people identify so much with the place they were born. And I think, to different levels, people are always shaped by the places they're in. Working in DC and New York and Mumbai, I feel like my work was always driven by adrenaline. It was all about productivity, getting things out the door, trying to move up the ladder, how much can I accomplish, who do I know, how can I get myself out there, and it was all just sort of, you know, typical city, go, go, go, culture. And I wanted to really force myself to slow down because I felt like I was missing a lot, especially when it came to looking at our political situation, but also just writing. I mean, someone said once that like the best condition for writing is being bored, and I couldn't agree more. Like when your mind is at rest is when the good stuff comes out. So, I felt like I wasn't able to do that in those cities, and also that I was like, developing this very East Coast perspective on the world, which can be a really narrow one.

Sonia — 4:29 : What is it about Taos, you think, that's maybe helping your adrenaline to adjust, and just being able to sit with yourself? I mean, maybe, it might be worth it to illuminate Taos a little bit more. Like, what kind of place is this, what kind of people are here? Is it mostly locals, transplants? How big is the population, if you know?

Liz — 4:47 : Yeah, so, where we're sitting right now is in the middle of the Rio Grande gorge, next to the Rio Grande River, which was formed by volcanoes millions of years ago and was once an ocean. So, obviously, a really deep, long history, and you feel it in this place. Taos itself is in part like a ski town, where people come, ski on the mountain, but it's also a place that's really diverse. It's one third indigenous, one third Latino, one third white, people of all different ages and backgrounds and transient people, people who have lived here forever. It's kind of hard to pin down like, what exactly Taos is. And I think in the popular imagination, people think of Taos as super creative because they think of like, Georgia O'Keeffe coming through here and doing her work here, DH Lawrence had a ranch here, all kinds of movies have been filmed here.

Sonia — 5:37 : Oh really, like which movies?

Liz — 5:38 : Okay, the famous movie that I'm now forgetting the name is two guys riding through America, Dennis Hopper and someone else, and it's like a symbol of freedom. And they're driving their motorcycles, and they're actually seeing small town America and reacting to it, and finding the ways that it's racist and bigoted and all these things, and trying desperately to find a place that isn't that. And the movie goes totally into these dark places, and I can't remember what it's called. But it's filmed a lot in Taos because Dennis Hopper also, like spent a long time in Taos doing drugs and being a wild man.

Sonia — 6:07 : Oh, wow. Okay.

Liz — 6:08 : So, there's a lot, you know, it's a lot to uncover and a deep history of indigenous revolts. So there's also like a very strong spirit of rebellion, and a really tight knit community too.

Sonia — 6:21 : And so, how would you describe the pace of life here?

Liz — 6:24 : So to your question about coming down from adrenaline, I think it's impossible to have adrenaline here. Like, New Mexico time is really slow. When I first got here, we were trying to find a car, and every time I would make an appointment to go see someone, they wouldn't show up, or they'd come like, three hours later. It's like, there's no such thing as coming on time to anything. And people laugh in your face when you try to be like, that person who's like, I want this now, like, standing in line for a coffee, like, don't think that you're going to just get things right away. Like, that's not the culture here. It's very much like, things unfold as they do. You and I just went to a bookshop, and you have conversations with the owner. You might think you'll be there for five minutes, you might be there for two hours, who knows? But you'll learn a lot about all of the books on his bookshelf. And I think just being so part of the land here, so immersed with nature. I live, as you know, on the mesa.

Sonia — 7:13 : What is the mesa for people who are not familiar?

Liz — 7:16 : The mesa is... it can be a lot of different things. But in the high desert, which we're in, our property is just surrounded by a rolling field of sage. So it's Sage as far as the eye can see.

Sonia — 7:28 : It's like an ocean of sage.

Liz — 7:29 : It is, it could be an ocean. It has that same feeling of like, meditative, mesmerizing, looking out in it.

Sonia — 7:36 : By the way, that's Zora with a stick right here.

Liz — 7:39 : What she does is she gathers sticks from the water and then just choose them until she gets splinters in her teeth.

So, Taos forces you to slow down, and I think, one way that that happens is because there are different wildflowers that pop up all the time. And they're there for just, like, a week. And I remember in cities, I used to like, notice time passing because I would order The New Yorker. And every week it would come and I still hadn't read it. And I was like, fuck, another week has passed. I haven't read anything I'm supposed to be reading, I haven't done what I'm supposed to do. I'm dying, I'm facing, like, you know, facing your own mortality of how quickly time is passing in here. It's like, this month, the sunflowers are up, and next month, it'll be purple thistles, and the month before that it was strawberry cacti. And, it just forces you to pay attention, because the things that appear disappear so quickly, and are so beautiful. And your energy is much lower. And so you are paying attention, I think.

Sonia — 8:33 : So it sounds like Taos is giving you a lesson or an education in paying attention.

Liz — 8:39 : Yes, yeah. And it was interesting. I did a writing workshop here the other day, and we read poems by Mary Oliver, which so many of her poems are about paying attention, and they're really about —

Sonia — 8:49 : Really.

Liz — 8:49 : Yeah! And they're all about attention and nature. And I think those things are really intertwined. So much of our modern culture sort of like, keeps us away from paying attention. Like, our minds are on our screens, our faces are in our phones. And we are trying to, like, produce, produce, produce. Like, you could walk by something and yet not even see it, because your face is your phone, you know. And here, we can't even get service where we're sitting right now, like, our faces couldn't be in our phones, really, if we want it to be. And I think paying attention is like, more important than ever. As like, we are facing like, these horrible climate crises. Like, we should pay attention to like, the things that aren't the way they used to be. Like, the river that you can no longer swim in. Like, are you noticing that? Like, are you noticing trees that are like, dying? Like, all of this stuff. I think, it's probably paying attention is like the thing our culture needs the most.

Sonia — 9:35 : How has it been for you to sell that idea to people you used to work with or network with, be around in DC or New York?

Liz — 9:45 : Not easy, because I think back to how I was then. And I was sort of like, people who do things slowly annoy me. Like, I hated when people would walk slowly in front of me. And I would like, try to pass them. Like, even in the office, walking from like, my desk to the canteen, like, I would run in front of them because I was so annoyed. And I'm like, they're wasting my time right now by walking slowly. So you can imagine that a person in that state of mind, when like, told to like, look at the wildflowers, it's like, what the hell are you talking about? Like, I have things to do. You know, and it is a privilege to like, slow down, and like, consider things and pay attention, if you're able to. But yeah, I mean, I have friends visit who are journalists from other cities, and they're kind of like, well, can you not order food at one in the morning? Like, what do you mean, I don't have phone service here. That's like a thing that would like, elicit horror. So, I don't know.

Sonia — 10:34 : Yeah, well, I also think there have been like, some books that have come out recently, like, Deep Work or How to do Nothing. Jenny Odell and Cal Newport. I haven't read either of them, but I've listened to one too many podcasts featuring their authors.

Liz — 10:47 : Right.

Sonia — 10:47 : But I feel like there's a certain kind of interest in these ideas, if not even fetishization.

Liz — 10:53 : Yeah.

Sonia — 10:54 : So, how do you think we should respond to these different forces at play at the same time?

Liz — 10:59 : Yeah, and probably there's an interest in that because humans want to slow down. We're not made only to work. Like, we're not just meant to be like, cogs in a wheel. So like, obviously people are feeling the crunch of that. And like, no we're not meant to like, go from an office where we work for like, five hours and then go get our like, chopped salad, as Jia Tolentino would say, and like, eat as fast as humanly possible. And then go back to our work and then go to our workout class, and then go home and go to bed, and watch a TV show, go to sleep, and start over again. No. So, I think like, there's a reason people are like, reading all these books about deep thinking, and all of that, but. I mean, until we like, dismantle the like, the destructiveness of capitalism, it doesn't seem like that will like, probably change, because that's like, larger structural forces at work that are demanding that of us, right? Like, there's a reason people have to work so hard.

Sonia — 11:46 : Yeah.

Liz — 11:47 : That's intense for your podcast.

Sonia — 11:48 : No, no, I embrace intensity. I like it.

Liz — 11:51 : Ok.

Sonia — 11:51 : I've been called intense.

Liz — 11:52 : Sonia is an intense person.

Sonia — 11:53 : Yeah. And I'm like, what? What are you talking about?

Liz — 11:56 : What do you mean? Intense people never know they're intense.

Sonia — 11:59 : Interesting. So how long do you think you'll stay in Taos?

Liz — 12:03 : Indefinitely. There's a saying about Taos. I mean, that everyone sort of comes for one month, and then they come for two months, then 25 years have passed. And I know quite a lot of people here who that has happened with already. So, who knows? Maybe I'll be here forever, if I could make it work.

Sonia — 12:22 : Wow. To wrap up, Liz, do you have any recommendations for any books, podcasts, articles, things, you know of that you think are worth sharing for this Loitering audience?

Liz — 12:34 : Yeah, well, I just finished a book by the woman who was at the center of the Stanford rape case. She was anonymous throughout the case, and is revealing her name in this memoir. And it's one of the most intense and beautiful things I've ever read. It's an indictment of criminal justice system and the way it treats rape victims or survivors. It's indictment of the media and the way that they portrayed her perpetrator as like, an all star swimmer with a high GPA, and her is like, nameless, faceless nobody.

Sonia — 13:05 : What year did this take place again? Do you remember?

Liz — 13:08 : 2016 was the trial. And I think it happened in 2015. So it was right before Me Too. But like, at this time, there weren't as many of those stories coming out. But this really captured the popular imagination because it was like, a sexual assault at a frat party. And he was caught by two Swedish international students who saw it happening and called the police and intervened. Anyways, it's just a really, a really powerful book that I think is going to sort of change how people talk about sexual assault, because it's so well done. And it so precisely critiques all these different things that are kind of brought up by Me Too, but we're not like, really talking about in a deeper way. And she kind of hammers home all of those different things in an amazing way. So I'd recommend that a lot.

Sonia — 13:52 : Do you know what the title is?

Liz — 13:54 : It's called Know My Name.

Sonia — 13:57 : Wow. Because I was just about to say, like, I know the name of that guy, Brock Turner, right?

Liz — 14:02 : Right. So you remember his name, you can remember his face. We know so much about him. And then like, most people who have dealt with sexual assault, they're like a statistic or anonymous. You know, she was known as Emily Doe. But like, even at the time, she wrote a statement that went viral. It was read 11 million times. And it's because she has this incredible ability to like, articulate, and as she said, like, take her pain and turn it into ideas, and like, be a pair of eyes of what she's seeing. So, pretty amazing.

Sonia — 14:29 : Wow. Thank you so much for that recommendation, Liz. So, that's all we have for today — oh my gosh. Yeah, Zora has gone to town. So, that's all we have for today of Loitering, the occasional, but lovable, traveling mini pod I am currently testing in newsletter format. Thanks for listening, and have a great day. Goodbye!

Post script : So, if you're interested, we have links to the books that we mentioned during this mini pod. And we also have a link to Liz's book review of Know My Name in The Washington Post. Speaking of the Post, I also had a story that I co-reported come out there just a couple of days ago. It's about an American woman from California, who is currently under arrest in India on a visa violation. And I'd love to have your feedback on that, if you're interested. So, thank you for listening and have a great day. Goodbye!

Links:

The Heart is a Shifting Sea, by Elizabeth Flock

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, by Jenny Odell

Know My Name: A Memoir, by Chanel Miller

Stanford assault victim Chanel Miller’s new book indicts her attacker — and the system, by Elizabeth Flock, for The Washington Post

American woman ‘desperate’ after being jailed for months in India on visa violation, by Joanna Slater and Sonia Paul, for The Washington Post

Loitering on the Couch with Monica Villavicencio

  
0:00
-11:58

Hello, everyone, welcome to Loitering, the occasional but lovable traveling mini pod I am currently testing in newsletter format. And today I am loitering on the couch with a very special guest. Can you please introduce yourself?

Monica — 0:26 : Hi, my name is Monica Villavicencio, and I met Sonia when I was living in San Francisco, and now she's here with me on my couch in Atlanta, Georgia, where I moved two months ago.

Sonia — 0:38 : Okay, so we're here in Atlanta. But Monica, aside from San Francisco, you've lived in a lot of different places.

Monica — 0:45 : Yeah, I've lived in a ton of places. Aside from Atlanta and San Francisco, I've lived in Washington, DC, New York, Tokyo, London, and LA, and with shorter stints in the Philippines, and Chicago.

Sonia — 1:02 : Wow, that is quite a number. First question is, where do you consider home?

Monica — 1:09 : That's a complicated question. And something I have wrestled with a lot. And I feel like if you'd asked me even two years ago, I would have had a different answer. But right now, right now I'm in a, like, in a phase of feeling like home is just wherever I am, wherever I live. So I guess, home is here in Atlanta, although it still feels like a new place. And I don't know that many people yet. But that's basically how I feel these days.

Sonia — 1:40 : Wow. And so where would you consider your roots, though? Like, the, the roots that made you consider what home first might be?

Monica — 1:49 : Yeah, that's also a complicated question, because my parents live in Virginia, just outside of DC. So when people ask me, where are you from, I always say, Virginia, just because I don't really know how to answer otherwise. And that's where I went to high school. But it's also really interesting, because I just came off of almost seven years in California. And I also spent my first nine years in California and LA. So it's like, the West Coast -- I feel like I have strong roots in San Francisco and where I was born, and LA, and also on the East Coast, in like the Washington DC area. And all I can say about that is kind of for the first time in a long time, I feel pretty comfortable saying that my roots extend from one side of the country to another. And that feels like that's the only narrative that's going to make sense for me.

Sonia — 2:44 : What was the tipping point that made you realize that you could say that you're from these two places across the country?

Monica — 2:52 : I think a big part of it was the decision to move here and the process of moving here, because I went to San Francisco with this idea of, I needed to build a home, and I needed to build roots of my own. Roots of my own that were my choice, and not just wherever my parents happened to be. And it was a good home for a while. But when I realized it wasn't fitting me anymore, and it wasn't fitting with how I wanted my life to develop, the decision to move across the country to a city I actually had never really spent any time in made me realize like, maybe my idea that I'm going to one day find a home and just stay there. And that decision to make a place my home will slowly like, allow roots to sprout. That's not how it's going to look for me. So it was I think the process of trying to pick one home and realizing I didn't need to do that.

Sonia — 3:47 : Okay, so if I'm following this correctly, what you're saying you figured out for yourself is that you once had this vision that you would make a home somewhere, wherever you happen to be, and you would plant roots. But now you're kind of letting go of that idea?

Monica — 4:05 : I think by moving I didn't sort of pick a new home, I just let go of the idea of one place becoming home. I think it's still possible that might happen. It's possible that you come back here 20 years from now, and I'll still be here -- or not. I don't know. But I think I used to feel this pressure to pick a place. Well I would get questions from like, old friends or family. Questions like "Oh, are you there for good?" Like this, just this concept of "for good," is just like, how can anyone answer? I mean, some people think they can. But I don't think any of us really can. So...

Sonia — 4:42 : Oh, yeah, I know what you mean.

Monica — 4:43 : Yeah.

Sonia — 4:44 : And what about then like this idea of community around these different homes or, quote unquote, "homes?" Because, you know, every so often I'll be on the internet, and I'll like, come across an article, like "millennials lack community," or "Americans, by and large, are so lonely." So, what do you think this idea or reality of community has to do with this desire, or even relinquishment of like a quote unquote, permanent home?

Monica — 5:15 : Yeah, that's a tricky thing. Because community really does take time to build. I mean, I felt like it took me about a year in San Francisco before I felt like I had a few friends that I could call at any time, and maybe not even, maybe more than a year. And that, all of that takes time. And that's the tricky thing about moving locations. On the other hand, I've noticed since I've been here, I've definitely tried to keep in touch with my friends on the west coast. And, I should also say that I'm a little bit lucky because Arvin is here with me.

Sonia — 5:46 : And who is this guy, Arvin?

Monica — 5:48 : That's my boyfriend. And also, my friend and business partner also moved from San Francisco around the same time.

Sonia — 5:56 : Oh, so Arvin, is not a business partner, but you have another —

Monica — 5:59 : I have another friend, Stephanie. And we all live very close to each other. So I kind of came here with a little tiny community, and slowly extending out. And, I mean, it is lonely or when you don't have friends that you've known for a long time here, and you have to rebuild that. But, sometimes even when you stay in the same place, you still have to do that. I lived in DC for a while. And DC is so transient that I remember there was a group of people that I hung out with every weekend for like, two years. And then it's like, one day, it just seemed like they were all gone. And everyone had moved on to other things. So, it's also like our way of life here that people are always moving for opportunities. And yeah.

Sonia — 6:45 : Yeah, this makes me think. A couple days ago, we were talking about this idea of what it means to move for opportunity, versus stay for other reasons. Do you remember what exactly we talked about? Because I I'd like to get back into that.

Monica — 7:01 : I do. Well, what I remember is, we kind of talked about the difference between, there are places that people tend to go for the opportunities. And so what pulls them there is opportunities to further themselves, whether that's professionally or creatively or financially. Notably, Washington, DC, is one. New York is often one, but you do find a lot of New Yorkers who are just there and all their family is there. Even San Francisco these days has that feel, because there's so much tech opportunity there that it's a destination for people with a certain amount of education and ambition. And when a city is the kind of place people go for opportunity, and tend to leave when something else comes along, there's like a transient quality, and possibly when people are less invested in what they can give to their communities and more -- more interested in what this place can give to them. What they can get from the place. So it might be even a little extractive, although that sounds kind of harsh, but I don't know.

Sonia — 8:03 : Yeah. Do you think that will always be the case, because so much professional, creative, and financial --that often all falls under the umbrella category of professional or quote unquote, "adult" opportunity comes by flocking to these destinations, do you think we're going to see a paradigm shift at any point, though? Or is that going to always be the case just because of how competitive things are?

Monica — 8:31 : I... I mean, I can't say for sure. But I think that they're studies around wealth and the strengthening versus weakening of social connections. And dare I say that if there's some other economic crisis, that we might then turn to our community bonds, our bonds of friendship and family, because we're going to need them more, you know, is not going to be sort of the Gold Rush where we just seek out, seek out opportunities for ourselves. So it's always possible that there are things that are going to happen that will remind us that we're not sort of lone wolves building our castles, but I hope so. I mean, I don't, I don't want us to all kind of fall on hard times or anything. But, I hope that there are things that will continue to remind us that our communities and connections are important.

Sonia — 9:26 : Well, thank you for that. Is there anything else that you'd like to add?

Monica — 9:30 : Just that if anyone is looking for a new home. Check out Atlanta. It's kind of a cool place.

Sonia — 9:38 : Yeah, it's pretty chill if you don't mind humidity, which I personally don't. But now as we wrap up, Monica, for this newsletter, I'm sort of testing like, recommendations. Things you've maybe read or listened to, that you think a reader or listener of this podcast newsletter might be interested in. And I was wondering if you had any recs you'd like to offer up?

Monica — 10:01 : So I've been listening to the Otherppl podcast with Brad Listi lately. And —

Sonia — 10:08 : What is this podcast? Other people? Who, who are these other people?

Monica — 10:13 : So he interviews people in his -- I want to say it's his garage — out in LA. And he interviews a lot of writers, predominantly fiction writers, like short story writers and novelists, and sometimes like non-fiction writers as well. And I've just learned a lot from listening to the interviews because I also write fiction, and especially about how these people work, like literally the nuts and bolts, the mechanics of how they make the things that they make. And also, kind of, I really enjoy the meandering conversations. So if anyone is a writer or loves fiction, that's a recommendation I have.

Sonia — 10:50 : Cool. So that's all we have for today of Loitering, the occasional but lovable traveling mini pod I am currently testing in newsletter format. And if you're interested in what I've been up to lately, there are a couple of links at the bottom of this podcast newsletter. The first link is a story I reported recently out in Houston on the Howdy! Modi rally that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump appeared at together with 50,000 members of the Indian diaspora. And the second link is an interview I did with a podcast called the Grand Tamasha, and it's about that very rally I reported at. The Grand Tamasha is a podcast that comes out of the Carnegie Endowment Center for Peace, which is a think tank based in Washington, DC. Thanks for listening and have a great day. Goodbye!

Links:

Otherppl podcast with Brad Listi

‘Howdy, Modi!’ Was a Display of Indian Americans’ Political Power, for The Atlantic

Deep in the Heart of Texas: Inside “Howdy, Modi,” for The Grand Tamasha podcast

On TwitterOn FacebookMore stories.

Loitering at Stinson Beach with Laura Rena Murray

  
0:00
-11:06

Hello everyone, welcome to Loitering, the occasional but lovable traveling mini pod I am currently testing in newsletter format. And today, we are doing a throwback to the original Loitering and taking you to a location with a very special guest. Right now we're at Stinson Beach, and our guest — can you please introduce yourself?

Laura: Hi, I'm Laura Rena Murray. I have been working as a longform investigative journalist for the last decade. I usually cover topics relating to homelessness and housing, the LGBT community, public health, specifically HIV/AIDS, yeah.

Sonia (0:39): Can you, uh, talk a little bit about one of the stories you've done in the past that you're most proud of, or is most memorable or special to you?

Laura (0:48): I spent a fair amount of time reporting on reservations in the Midwest, specifically reporting on the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Sonia (0:55): Uh, for those who don't know what that is, can you just explain a little bit what that is?

Laura (1:00): So, it's a law that was created in the late 70s, to sort of combat the practice of removing Native children from their families and communities, and placing them in non-Native foster homes or systems. And part of the reason was because you have all of these communities who were systematically losing their children for many reasons, but it all sort of boiled down to inherent racism, and what we've done to Native American communities across this country. So, it was an important step to try and preserve those communities. And it was something that I wanted to see if it was working or not. So I took a few months, and hit the road, and went to many reservations reporting on what was happening.

Sonia (1:44): And what do you think was the outcome of your story, or what's the takeaway for those who ought to be intrigued to read it to understand further?

Laura (1:54): I think it helps to illuminate what is happening to a community in the present day. You know, a lot of people, if they've never been to a reservation, they're not thinking about it. There are a lot of stereotypes people have about who native families are, and sort of how they rear their children. And I think the stories that came out of that reporting trip helped educate a lot of people who are non-Native, but also offered a platform to families who are struggling to get their children back, and caught up in systems where they didn't have a chance. There were some places I'd go, and the family would have less than 30 seconds or they wouldn't be allowed to speak at all in a courtroom. And it would just be the social workers speaking directly to a judge, recommending to remove the child. And, often children are removed because their families were poor. Like, that's what it boiled down to. It wasn't anything else about the child being in danger, but I think it was some, like insane percentage of children were removed for neglect, which was basically a code word for poverty.

Sonia (2:56): Well, for those of you who are listening and reading, we're going to have a link to that story in the newsletter. So please reference that below. And so Laura, you've been working as a freelance investigative journalist for over a decade, but your day to day job right now is a little bit different. Can you tell us what you're doing in your day to day these days?

Laura (3:18): So, a few years ago, I started training to become a motorcycle technician. I love riding motorcycles. And I bought my first motorcycle probably five or six years ago. And a few months ago, I got a job working in a motorcycle shop. I work at the BMW shop in San Francisco. And it's great. It's entirely unlike journalism, in that it offers a little more stability. And also, there's something really lovely about being able to fix a problem in a day. Which is just not something that you get from a lot of other jobs. And how marvelous is that?

Sonia (3:56): So Laura, I'm just kind of wondering like, how do you think about that in relation to the way you think about yourself as a journalist or writer? Are you still the same two Laura Rena Murrays, or is there one, newer version of you that's emerging now?

Laura (4:14): That's a hard question. I think that our industry —

Sonia (4:18): Meaning the journalism industry?

Laura (4:20): Yes. I mean, I've been doing it for a decade now. And just seeing the changes in the industry, like we're trying to adjust to layoffs and publications shutting down. And, you know, there are some stories I've worked on where I've like gone through multiple editors who have been laid off during the course of reporting the story, and it feels unstable. It's difficult to make it work. Even though at the core of me, I feel journalism is the perfect job. I love immersion into communities, and learning about power structures and where they fail, and what the consequences are and who's responsible for that. And I love writing. It's, I think, it's something that I was always meant to do.

(5:09)

But, it is hard to do that when you aren't supported, when we can't pay our rent. Literally, that's what's happening. And that's something that really makes me pause when I think about sustainability and how we live our lives. And you know, we work in journalism because we are the observers, the note takers. We record history as it happens. We think it's important for everyone to know what's happening, whether or not you have access to the institutions of power that run our country and our world. So yeah, I think I'm a little bit torn right now in terms of, you know, wanting some stability in my life and wanting to sort of do the job that I know I was born to do.

Sonia (5:52): Do you think the tension about stability comes from journalism writ large or the nature of freelance reporting?

Laura (6:01): I think both go hand in hand. I think most people don't actually understand how much the institution of journalism is supported by freelance journalists who sacrifice a great deal in order to report the stories that really, make a huge difference.

Sonia (6:20): So, do you have any ideas or recommendations for what we ought to do to think about moving forward?

Laura (6:29): So, I — I don't know that I know the answer. But, I do think that there are many things about this world that require a more comprehensive understanding of what's going on. More background and history, like you need the context in order to know what's happening, unless you live in a community and you are consuming the news daily. And so I think that longform journalism, I think investigative journalism, really, actually, every piece that is produced, is sort of a testament to the sacrifice that was made by the journalists who worked on that story.

(7:05)

And as freelance journalists, we both know how much you sacrifice in order to work on the story. You know, you get nominal grants to sort of cover the expenses of reporting — if you're lucky — you know, but the story where I was reporting on reservations for months at a time, I was sleeping in my car, and you know, drinking lots of coffee and not eating very much, just in order to stretch the small grant that I had gotten to cover the story. So that's tough. I don't, I don't know what the answer is to change that. But my hat goes off to every journalist who persists in producing quality work because we need it.

Sonia (7:46): Yeah, and I'm, I'm curious, because for a long time now, you've been working on a book. And I'm wondering if you would be open to talking a little bit about that, and if you're imagining a different version of its lifespan, given the sort of restructuring of the work that you are doing right now to make your personal life work, and professional life work?

Laura (8:09): Right. Yeah, writing a book takes a lot. And I think it requires a lot of support. It requires, like the financial ability to actually do the work. The book that I started working on now a few years ago, is looking really at the child welfare system in the city where I grew up, Philadelphia. And there is so much that is wrong with that system — with the shelter system, with how child abuse investigations are handled, and so many children slip through the cracks and have terrible things happen to them. And so, I was interested in writing this book that was, as I was calling it at the time, I reported memoir of my own experiences of going through that system, and becoming an emancipated minor in order to get out of that system before I turned 18.

(8:58)

And trying to write a book in your spare time is difficult. It's been on hold for a little bit, in part because there is a part of me that wants to stabilize and not just eat ramen five days a week.

Sonia (9:11): Well, we just ate some delicious ice cream, by the way, um.

Laura (9:15): Shout out to Stinson Beach ice cream.

Sonia (9:17): Mint chocolate chip and Dutch chocolate, FYI.

(9:21)

I wanted to wrap up with some recommendations for any books, podcasts, articles. Do you have any, Laura?

Laura (9:29): Well, we were talking while we were waiting in line for ice cream about some that you have been listening to lately or reading, and I thought that you had some amazing ideas.

Sonia (9:40): Well, I'm in the middle of like, multiple books. And I listen to a lot of podcasts. One podcast series — it's not its own show, but it was a sort of mini series on the show On the Media. It's called The Scarlet E. And it's actually based on this book that we actually both have and will hopefully have a book club about soon. It's based on this book called Evicted. And, it's basically about housing, and what it means to afford a life in modern day USA.

And another book I'm in the middle of reading that I need to finish up for another virtual book club I'm doing with a couple of friends is Nomadland, which is written by Jessica Bruder. It's about retirees who are living in campers and working as, like, security guards at national parks or in Amazon warehouses, and trying to make a life that they could afford and enjoy at a later stage in life.

Laura (10:39): Yes.

Sonia (10:39): Yeah.

Laura (10:40): I'm excited to read both.

Sonia (10:41): Okay, yeah, we're gonna have another book club.

So, thank you for reading and listening. That's all we have for today's episode of Loitering, the occasional but lovable traveling mini pod I am currently testing in newsletter format. And, in case you forgot, you know, the sound of the ocean is behind us. That's because we are loitering at Stinson Beach right now. Thanks for listening and have a great day. Goodbye!

Links to Laura’s stories on Native reservations:

The Standing Rock Sioux fight to get their children back, for Al Jazeera America

'We get the kids back': Native American grandmother fights to preserve families, for The Guardian

“It’s Like A Set Up To Get Rid Of Indians”, for Bright Magazine

Links related to Laura’s book-on-pause:

Minor Cords, for The New Inquiry

Laura speaking at the Lambda Literary Foundation

Philly’s Invisible Youth, for Al Jazeera America

Laura is on Twitter, but she’s mostly offline with birds and motorcycles.

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Loitering in Oakland on Nationalism

  
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-6:48

Hello, everyone! Welcome to Loitering, the occasional, but lovable traveling minipod I am currently testing in newsletter format. And today, I am loitering at my dining room table in Oakland, California.

If you’re getting this, that means that at some point or another, you’ve expressed interest in my reporting and encouraged me to keep you in the loop on future stories and my whereabouts, and what I am generally up to.

Some of you may remember the original Loitering mini podcast. That went on hiatus first when the app I used to start it shut down (which of course was not unexpected given the nature of startups). And then after I relaunched it, it went on hiatus again when I got really busy. And I also started to wonder whether the new app I was trying out was really worth it.

Meanwhile, some of you have literally told me to do what I am doing right now, which is make use of an email newsletter.

While it’s taken me a long time to do it, I actually started this one a few months ago and have started others in the past. And the reason I am partial to this platform, at least for now, is that it offers the capacity for podcasting at the same time you can send a traditional newsletter. And…I like that. The podcasting function is currently in beta, so it may have some hiccups at times, but I’m down to try it out. And I hope that now that I’m actually sending this minipod newsletter out, that I will make myself more accountable to this, and that the people who read it and listen to it hold me accountable too.

So. Now that that’s out of the way, onto what Loitering will cover in this message and in the future. And the truth is, I am not sure what its exact identity will be. I do hope to incorporate more location-based interviews, as I did before. But I’m also hoping — and this is a little bit different from before — to use Loitering as way to talk about and distribute current stories I’m working on.

That said, I want to talk about one in particular that published last week on a new site for untold South Asian stories called The Juggernaut. The story builds off of reporting I’ve been pursuing for several years, and is a story that’s occupied much of my headspace for the last couple of months. The news hook is India’s election for its next prime minister, which is currently taking place in a multi-stage voting process. The story I wrote is a broader piece about what nationalism looks like for the Indian diaspora in the U.S., and what their political significance could be both here and in India.

So basically, this is the kind of story that might only come from a person like me. And it’s the kind of story that I found, over the course of pitching it and discussing it with others, piques a lot of interests — and not just from people who are really into India. My gut feeling and observation is that the current conversation around white nationalism and global nationalism contributes to that. Nationalism has become almost a trigger word for some people, even though others do see it as akin to, say, patriotism. And so some people do have a more positive, rather than negative, identification with the word. But what are the fine lines between nationalism as patriotism, versus nationalism as something that’s more exclusionary and something to be afraid of? That’s what my story explores.

So, if you’re reading this newsletter, I’m posting the link to it. It’s called, “Where Politics in India and California Collide.” You can also Google it if you’re listening to this. Just an fyi, it is behind a paywall, but you can try a free weeklong subscription to the site to test it out and read my story. The subscription model is a popular model for news outlets these days… just as a newsletter is a popular model for journalists! Whatever you think about either, please remember that trying to keep good reporting and storytelling sustainable is at the heart of both project… and that whatever support we could get is truly appreciated.

So, before I log off, I want to share a few stories I’ve read and listened to recently that I think might stir a lot of thinking.

The first is a piece I actually just read last night. It was my bedtime story. It’s a piece by Wil S. Hylton, and it’s in the New York Times Magazine. The title is, “My Cousin Was My Hero. Until the Day He Tried to Kill Me.” So, as you can imagine, with a title like that, this personal essay is not for the faint of heart. But I found it captivating, both for its eloquence, as well for the ideas it put forward around topics like masculinity, gender norms, mental illness, how others influence our own behaviors — all of which are things that aren’t necessarily easy to discuss.

The second is an episode I listened to about a month ago from the producers at NPR’s Code Switch podcast called, “Why Is It So Hard to Talk About Israel?” And if you’re like me and interested in topics like diaspora and nationalism, and how we can distinguish between feeling “targeted” versus inhabiting a certain kind of “fragility,” then this episode delves into all of that. I also think there are a lot parallels between Jewish politics and Indian politics, so if you know me because of my India-oriented reporting, this episode might be intriguing for that reason as well.

The third is another New York Times piece called “Women Did Everything Right. Then Work Got ‘Greedy.’” And this is not just about women’s work but the nature of work in general in the United States, and how it influences both our gender roles and our lives. And that’s by Claire Cain Miller.

The last piece I’m recommending is something I read a couple of months ago now, and has stayed in my memory in part because not long after I read it, I met up with a friend who had similarly just read it! And we found ourselves talking a lot about it outside a tea lounge in Union City… It’s called, “The only metric of success that really matters is the one we ignore,” and it’s by Jenny Anderson.

And that wraps up today’s edition of Loitering, the occasional, but lovable traveling minipod I am currently testing in newsletter format. As I mentioned, this minipod newsletter is a work in progress! I’d love your tips and feedback. Thanks for listening and reading, and have a great day. Goodbye! :)

XOXO,

Sonia

P.S. Feel free to share this with those you think may be interested. I may do a more formal “announcement” about this minipod newsletter down the line, but for now, it’s nice to slowly build a community. :)

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