Tag Archives: Redwood Record

My Short-lived Journalism Career

Jentri reporter

Throughout my sojourn in the Land of Shum I wrote letters to the editors of local newspapers, helped start and edit the Briceland Community High School newspaper and wrote articles for local newspapers pro bono. Sometime in the 1990s, I began stringing (freelancing) for both the Redwood Record and the Garberville Life and Times. The former job grew into a fulltime stringing job, meaning I got paid by the inch with no benefits, but was promised enough stringing assignments to pay me as much as a permanent reporter position would, but only if I bailed them out of a pinch by agreeing to be the front desk for six months first. I did that until the Fortuna Group, which owned 3 Humboldt County newspapers, closed down the Record and the Arcata Union, both of which had been important to the county historically. The Record had been in existence for over 60 years and the Union for 102. Both were “absorbed” into the Fortuna Beacon.

I have no evidence but my own observations to back me up, but I am convinced that the problem, with the Record at least, was that the staff had over the years become increasingly interested in writing environmental stories and covering other news that had been ignored in the past.  When our editor returned every two weeks from her meetings with the publisher and editors of the other two papers in Fortuna, she was always recovering from the stress of pressure on her to downplay the green stories. Fortuna Group was very, very conservative and the newspapers, not very profitable I assume, were more or less hobbies of the owner to begin with. The Group mainly held interests in logging and other industries. At one point, we were instructed not to write one more story about County Supervisor Dan Hauser, whose environmental leanings endeared him to Shummers. The closure came shortly after the issue that had an entirely green front page, purely by accident–it so happened that the news that week was all green and the editor must have not realized it until it was too late.  I carefully preserved and cherish that front page, for its greenness and also because I wrote most of the stories on it.

When the paper was closed, so abruptly that I returned from an out-of-town story to find myself locked out of the office, I was among 25 news workers in Humboldt County who were suddenly and without any warning whatsoever thrown into a very tight job market. I was able to save myself, for a while, because I was already a part-time lecturer at both Humboldt State University and College of the Redwoods. When both of those gigs fell through sometime later, however, and I could find no news or clerical work and figured death would be better than waitressing again, my time at the Record had supplied me with enough clips and chutzpah to seek employment out of the county as a reporter, despite my advanced age and lack of a journalism degree. One of the really nice things about the news business, at least the reporting side of it, is that so much of your interview consists of plopping your portfolio down in front of your prospective editor, instead of impressing the personnel office with how obsequious and conforming you can be.

I worked for three different papers outside Humboldt County, all of whose editors were thrilled to get a PhD who was a published author for entry level wage plus benefits. They were the Lake County Record-Bee, the Amador County Ledger-Dispatch and Sonoma West Times & News in Sebastopol. To assuage my hippie conscience, I told myself that I would skate just as close to the line as possible for as long as possible in terms of investigative reporting and writing green stories. At each paper, I lasted about a year before the publishers made me miserable enough to leave. (I was never fired outright, but any employer worth his or her salt knows what will drive an unwanted employee to quit.) By that time, at the first two papers, both owned by corporations with distant headquarters, I had the sheriff, most of the county supervisors, all of the school superintendants and the newspaper sales department out gunning for me. I never had an editor that didn’t beg me to stay.

The exception is Sonoma West, which was not a corporate newspaper, but owned and run by former reporters. The problem there was that,  just because it was not a corporation, it was not influenced by laws against sexism and the sexism proved unbearable to me. I was patronized, ridiculed, handed all the Grange breakfast stories, not allowed to cover women’s issues  and had to, each and every day, look at the picture of Marilyn Monroe taped to the back of the male reporter’s computer my computer faced. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate Marilyn’s position in the women’s movement, but I really did not want to have to look at one of her sexiest pin-up pictures any time I was in the newsroom. I allowed myself to be wooed away by a software corporation about which I had written stories, at double my salary, only to find I preferred the low-paying sexism to the high-paying cultism. That job did not last long. I had one more newspaper job, doing part-time reporting and layout for the Garberville Independent, which had filled the niche left when the Redwood Record folded.

Below is a sampling of my work done outside the county. I am posting it even though the stories do not relate specifically to Shum, because I think it is of interest that a longtime country hippie such as myself could be employed at a straight newspaper at all and what kinds of things would she write as a result of her life in Shum that would shorten her tenure at each paper. Also, I am very proud of my environmental writing and feel that it is the answer to anyone who might wish to accuse me of “copping out” by having to leave the county to find acceptable work.  At each of the papers except Sonoma West, I wrote a regular opinion column and many features, in addition to reporting straight news, which is why I have the temerity to call myself a journalist instead of a reporter. One of my editors questioned this reasoning and insisted that he was a reporter, not a journalist, then looked at me expectantly, as if waiting for me to cave. But, I didn’t. I love you, Thomas, you taught me oh, so very much about the news business, but, no, I’m a journalist.

From the Amador Ledger-Dispatch, 1998

Mesa d'oro ed

jet ski comanche ed

Journalism, book reviews

During my entire time in the Land of Shum, I was a frequent contributor to local newspapers and journals, sending in letters, opinion pieces and news articles for which I was not being paid. Then I was an off and on stringer for the Life and Times and Redwood Record. Then I was a paid “front desk” worker at Redwood Record, which entailed some writing, after which I was a fulltime stringer, meaning I was given enough freelance work to equal a fulltime reporter job. During that period, I wrote news stories, an opinion column and occasional movie and book reviews. The book reviews were my idea, principally because I got to keep the books sent to me by the publishers, a little perk I felt I more than deserved, given that I earned so little money freelancing. Some reviews, however, were not really books, but scientific reports or other items I felt I could best elucidate in book review form. You’ll have to live with the erratic vertical spacing, each one has been through several computer steps and there are hard returns I just couldn’t get rid of.

‘Paula’ a tale for a dying daughter told through a mother’s pain

PAULA
By Isabel Allende, New York:
Harper Collins, 1995.

Book Review
By Jentri Anders

There are reasons for anyone literate to read an autobiography, but there are categories of readers who will identify especially with Isabel Allende’s autobiography. The primary one of these categories is mothers of adult daughters, for “Paula” is more than the story of Allende’s life. It is the story of her life, an extraordinary woman’s life, as she tells it to her dying daughter.

The book began when Paula Frias Allende was 28 and in a coma from an illness that came on so suddenly that she only had time to say, “I love you, Mama” before sinking. Her disease is genetic, a blood condition called porphyria, inherited from her father. Allende knew that both her children had the condition, but she did not know that it could “explode like a time bomb” into paralysis, coma and death.
Novelist Allende happened to be lecturing in Spain, the home of Paula and her husband Ernesto, when her daughter became first delirious, then comatose. Allende had been surprised when Paula was not there to greet her at the airport. She had found her at home with what had already been misdiagnosed as the flu.
When Allende asks Paula what is wrong with her, Paula replies firmly, “porphyria,” but Allende, remembering her daughter’s “tendency to exaggerate,” dismisses it. They discuss depression instead. The next day, Allende is forced to cancel her tour and rush to intensive care, to Paula’s side.
It is every good parent’s worst nightmare. There is the inevitable question of whether there was any way you could have changed it, any small neglect or misunderstanding that led to it, any bargain that will allow you to take your child’s place. But, Allende realizes, in that way lies madness.
Allende is a writer. When in doubt, she writes, but here there is no room for the creativity required by fiction. There is only room for Paula, so Allende writes her life, in the same style she wrote her bestselling novels, and she writes it for Paula to read.
It is thus an affirmation that Paula will return to her body and to her loving family, including her husband of one year, Ernesto. It is also, clearly, Allende’s way of giving her mind something else to do but endlessly chew on the situation.
The autobiography is simultaneously a journal of Allende’s last year with Paula, first in the hospital in Madrid, then in her home in San Francisco. The journal sections are shorter than the autobiographical sections, but they are no less important.
Just when Allende’s humor and storytelling virtuosity threaten to make the reader forget Paula, the narrative flashes back to her bedside, her condition, her dream visit to her mother last night.

The two stories are not strictly parallel — they tend to converge as Paula’s condition worsens, and Allende’s life comes closer to the present. In the end, the reader finds, it is the same story.
The first two-thirds of the book are “long letter” to Paula, in the same way Allende says her “The House of the Spirits” began–a long letter to her grandfather. In Part II, Allende has become more open to the idea that Paula will never wake up, and the reader is then addressed directly.
What Allende tells her daughter tells us everything about her relationship with her daughter, and more. For women of Allende’s generation to have achieved such rapport, such honesty, such camaraderie with an adult daughter is an achievement often omitted from feminist retrospectives. When a feminist succeeds in throwing off the chains of oppression, she does not pass them on to her daughter. She gives her every scrap of experience she has to help her avoid them.
There are cynics who might see the format as a trick, an exploitation of the daughter’s illness in order to sell books. In these days of rampant tackiness in publishing, that is a legitimate concern. There is, however, no question of that here, for Allende is an established and superior novelist with no need whatsoever to trick her audience.
The spiritual evolution is authentic, as is the desire to share it with others in memory of a daughter whose own life was a monument to concern for others.
Although Allende’s story and Paula’s story are generally chronological, there is another subtle pattern at work, one that also reminds us that we are witnessing a real human drama from close up.
Allende creeps up on some subjects, the ones it would be hardest for a woman to tell her daughter. She makes allusions to certain situations, like her rape at the age of 8 and a love affair her children questioned, but only tells the whole story later. The reader suspects that these are the things she thought she would have a lifetime to work out with her daughter.

Again, the great tragedies of Allende’s life, such as the coup that overthrew her uncle and sent her into long years of exile, come out when Paula’s condition worsens, as if the present tragedy pulled an emotional cork and let out the past ones.
One senses that perhaps the courage Allende knows she must muster to face the truth about Paula is the same courage she mustered to bring her children through the coup and the exile. At some level she knows this, and we see her searching within herself to find it again.

Paula does not make it, and nothing is given away by that information. The stories of the two women do not lie in the historic details but in their inspiring relationship and their inspiring personalities.
As in “The House of the Spirits,” the family’s traditional ability to converse with the spirit world comes to Allende’s aid. The ancestral spirits hover, but Allende is finally convinced to let go by the spirit of Paula herself.
The book is art in the truest sense, a piece of the soul of the artist, offered to the world with only one string attached. Allende has given us her courage, her foibles, her unshakable mother-love and asks us only to remember her daughter in return. It’s a deal you can’t refuse.

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From Redwood Record, November 16, 1995

 ‘Aama’ an American odyssey through a visitor’s eyes

Book Review by Jentri Anders

By Broughton Coburn, New York: Anchor Books 1995.

Sometime in the 1960s, Americans starved for some real food for the sou1 faced East and began chanting “OM.” The inundation of Eastern gurus and pseudo-gurus that resulted has continued unabated ever since.
The backlash came after the fall of Rajneeshpurim in Oregon, when the kingdom of the Mercedes-driving Rajneesh fell, amid accusations of everything from embezzlement to kidnapping to mass poisoning, and the bearded soothsayer was deported summarily back to India.

Many are those who lost all interest in purported spiritual superiority emanating from the East after the Rajneeshpurim fiasco, as well as many other such fiascos that characterized the ‘70s and ‘80s. It is thus a pleasant surprise to read a down-homey and honest account of a spiritual quest taken to the West by a spiritual seeker from the East, a seeker with both charisma and human failings, wisdom and prejudice.
Author Broughton Coburn went to Nepal as a Peace Corps volunteer teacher. Later, he was involved in rural development and wildlife conservation for the United Nations and the World Wildlife Fund. Perhaps it is these highly rational and on-the-ground pursuits that saved his readers from having to wade through the obligatory religious morass before getting to what his Nepalese mentor actually has to say.
Vishnu Maya Gurung, an 84-year-old subsistence farmer, went from being Coburn’s landlady in the village where he first worked to being “Aama,” his surrogate mother. Since Aama was one of those unfortunate Asian women who never produced a son, she had much to gain from adopting Coburn as her “Dharma son.” For Coburn, who lost his mother at 19, it was a welcome deal.

Coburn’s first book about Aama, “Nepali Aama: Life Lessons of a Himalayan Woman,” documented their unique relationship and how their two very different cultures met through them in the tiny house where he slept over the bullock stall.
In the second, “Aama in America: A Pilgrimage of the Heart,” Coburn recounts Aama’s two-month odyssey in America, where Coburn brought her to visit “spiritual places.” That spiritual places exist in America is the first premise one must accept in getting into Coburn’s groove and Aama’s experiences go a long way toward establishing that premise.
The first part of the journey is down Highway 101 from Seattle, with stops at the “Trees of Mystery” tourist attraction. There Aama communes wryly with the gigantic statues of Paul Bunyan and his ox. We Humboldt County residents who love our chosen home have no problem empathizing with Aama’s conversations with the ancient redwoods and the “Great Ganges Ocean” as she dubs the Pacific.

As the three of them travel down the Pacific Coast, visiting friends and relatives on the way, then make a major zig back up through the southwest to Yellowstone and thence east to Maine, the strange triangle becomes ever stranger. It is possible to become frustrated with Coburn’s density, however, as he wallows in self-absorption while his girlfriend, Didi, copes with the everyday problems of caring for an 84-year-old woman who just dropped into her life from out of the Nepalese sky.

The well-read reader begins to wonder if Coburn is deliberately presenting himself as stupider than he is, as Carlos Casteneda did before him, to make a point. If the point was to emphasize Aama’s wisdom, however, he failed to make it. Aama cycles from high consciousness to low, as children and tourists flock to her at every stop.

But the irreverence of Americans, even Coburn and Didi, show her how hopelessly alienated Americans are from the many sources of spiritual goodies around them. Coburn is to be greatly congratulated for his candor, about himself, about Aama and about the personal revelations that come to him from his impulsive invitation to her.

Had he yielded to the temptation to present Aama as something other than the Will Rogers-like crackerbarrel philospher she is, albeit one who walks with spirits every day, and to present himself as the head honcho devotee, the book would have taken its place as just another quasi-religious tract. As it is, it is a delightful and insightful look at America that leaves us room to think for ourselves. Aama’s journey is not our journey, but looking at ourselves through her eyes is one way to begin it.