Space

It was an innocent enough question: “Are you doing anything special for Father’s Day?”

A beat. A rain droplet against the car window of my Uber. A tongue stuck to the roof my mouth.

“Just spending time with my family?”

“Yes.”


It’s been 176 days and I still  feel your hand in mine. Rough and cracked from more than six decades of labor and work, heavy like a stone. I don’t know what happened to the mug I got you. Last I saw, it sat underneath the Christmas tree with your other unopened gifts — a graveyard of ribbon-wrapped boxes, as full as the rest of us were empty.

On Christmas Eve, my dad died. Heart failure. It was the day before his birthday (yes, it fell on Christmas, and yes, I sometimes cheated and got him one gift instead of two).

It was early in the morning. Messy hair atop my head and bleary eyed, my mother screamed a spiral of a scream, circles and circles of sorrow collapsing on each other.

My sister and I shot up out of bed and ran to the living room. Dad had collapsed into his chair and now lay there with only very faint sounds of breathing (or maybe I imagined it). My mom called 911 while my sister looked at me pleadingly. I started doing chest compressions (thank you high school and college CPR training and first aid lessons).  He was at the wrong angle in the recliner so we lifted him onto the ground.

How two girls with a combined weight of less than 200 pounds did that, I will never know.

I kept doing chest compressions. Froth came out of his mouth, tinted with blood. I tried desperately to do mouth-to-mouth but his jaw was locked. I told my sister to help me roll him over in a vain attempt to keep his throat clear. I didn’t want him to die drowning.

I wiped his mouth over and over, as if though keeping him presentable would keep him here.

I kept alternating between compressions and tilting his head to keep him from choking on fluids.

Eventually, I had one hand on his head, the other holding his hand. Holding him as he had done with me so many times.

A hotel room in Vegas. A ranch with no A/C in Edinburg. A law office with boring brown walls. Outside Farley Hall at Notre Dame.

“I love you my Susie.” “I love you, Luvie.”

Everywhere, he loved me. Everywhere, he was my dad.

Except there, in that moment. In that moment, he was not my dad. I was his daughter. I was the safe cradling hands. I was the protector.

“I love you, dad. I love you. I love you.”

Until the paramedics came. Over and over, forever and ever.


I wanted to get back to Colorado as soon as possible. I didn’t want to sit in that room, I didn’t want to see his empty recliner, his eyeglasses, his walker.

I didn’t want to sit in this museum of what once was.


My dear friend Lea picked me up. We ate dinner and laughed. It was a much-needed night of levity and peace.

My boyfriend bought me a stuffed polar bear and carrot cake. I had been texting him and my other father-less friend during the whole ordeal. We’re all in the Dead Dads Club™.

These people and the countless others who sent flowers, who came by, who brought food and laughter and hugs filled with healing and kindness — well, I have no words of appreciation great enough.

When someone dies, the space that is left behind is so uniquely shaped, it can never be filled. It’s like a fingerprint, but on the soul. And it doesn’t identify you, it identifies the part of you that is them.

The part of me that is Jesus Gonzalez remains, but it is not corporeal. The physical incarnation has returned to wherever we come from. I won’t get religious, but let’s just say wherever it is, I truly believe it is beautiful and bright.

So I’m left with a space. I can try to fill it with material things or accomplishments or money, etc. But the only real substitute is people. The kind ones. The humans who extended their arms and who have helped me each day with their words, their gestures, their friendship and love. You know who you are.

Father’s Day is not just for fathers, but for the people who step up in our lives in their absence. Be it death, abandonment, estrangement,  those without dads on days like today would be truly lost were it not for our humans. The ones who lessen the absence to such a minuscule amount that it’s almost like we’ve lost nothing at all.

The space-fillers.


“Does your family live close enough or are they kind of far?”

“My family is mostly in Texas. But I have a Colorado family I’m spending time with this weekend. Friends and such.”

“Ah. Yeah. It’s funny how the word ‘family’ means different things. I feel like most people nowadays use it as a term for biological family, but also friends.”

“Yeah, that’s how I meant it. My family.”


Night will follow day
Sure as the sun and moon
Remember I will always be with you
If i’m out of words to say
And I understand you
When you see a darkness coming through
Remember to keep warm
Take shelter from the storm
The night will not last for much more
I wrote in a small note
put on your winter coat
A cold wind will blow through your door
Night will follow day
Sure as the sun and moon
Remember I will always be with you
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Social media, journalism and how to be less creepy

Social media has become as important to journalism as the AP Stylebook. I have yet to decide if this is a good or bad thing.

I’m the digital editor at the award-winning, byline-churning and all-around bad-assing (that’s totally a word, look it up) Aurora Sentinel. So I spend 8-12 hours a day on Hootsuite, Facebook, Twitter and WordPress, just cycling through all of the content we have, posting it and trying not to appear desperate when I tag 10 different entities in a story or photo.

I love it. I have severe social anxiety, but I’m also a journalist. Sitting behind a screen and still being able to communicate with a vast amount of people is a dream.

I follow a lot of journalists on Twitter, most I’ve never even met in-person. I haven’t had any issues (pun intended). Journalists tend to be wildly weird creatures, but for the most part, nice and decent people.

At least, that’s what I believed before yesterday.

A journo followed me on Twitter a while back. For the sake of privacy, let’s call him Esteban H. No, that’s too obvious, let’s go with E. Hernandez.

He’s a journalist, originally from Colorado and of the Latino variety, so I was excited. Because I’ve discovered that being Hispanic in Colorado qualifies me as being “exotic” and, honestly, it makes someone who grew up in a region that was 95 percent Hispanic a bit uncomfortable (i.e. no one understands what I mean when I say “chingadera” or that “pos” is a complete sentence).

Anyway, he seemed nice and non-threatening. And he was in another state, so I found the potential for creepiness minimal.

Then he followed me on Instagram. I posted a photo on Twitter and he said it was beautiful, that I was a good photographer and asked if I had an Insta. Of course I told him my handle and followed him back. Because its 2016 and I’m a millennial and this isn’t at all weird to us.

And because I think I’m funny, I shared one of my Snapchat photos on Twitter. E. sent me a message. Totally innocent. “Lol. What’s your Snapchat?” I mostly post hilarious things on Snapchat and am part of the faction that believes you shouldn’t post anything on social media you wouldn’t want your mom to see. Lame? Maybe. But I’m not a very scandalous person anyway.

A few minutes later, I get the notification he added me on Snapchat. Cool. I added him back. We exchanged two innocuous messages.

E: Hey, what’s up?

Me: *sends sticker that has no meaning*

I walked away from phone and went about my life. My frozen broccoli was defrosting rapidly and I needed to address the embarrassingly large pile of dishes in my sink.

I got a message soon after asking “where did you go?” This was the point I started to get weirded out. I wasn’t under the impression we were having an actual conversation. So I replied half-heartedly and said I was washing dishes.

Things got creepy fast.

“What’s your number?”

“Um, why?”

“I want to play.”

“Wtf. What do you mean?”

“Using our mouths and fingers. I was trying to be subtle. Maybe I shouldn’t be. haha.”

“I have a boyfriend, please don’t message me ever again.”

Then I blocked him on Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and Googled “is there a country with no men?”

OK, that last step didn’t happen but I truly wondered what is wrong with people.

Things escalate so quickly in these situations, it leaves the receiver of the messages in a bit of social media shell shock. I closed Snapchat before screenshotting the messages (the one and only time I’ve ever been mad at the impermanence of Snapchat). Then I quickly texted my boyfriend* what happened because I needed someone to know that I was angry, confused and feeling all-around terrible.

*feel free to skip this part

INT. SUSAN’S MIND – NIGHT

BRAIN: People did not come here to read about your boyfriend.

HEART: But he’s so nice, they must know!

BRAIN: For God’s sake, get a hold of yourself.

HEART: But…he’s a journalist and smart and so sweet.

BRAIN: Please stop, you’re embarrassing both of my hemispheres. 

HEART: Fine. At least let me leave this gooey part in.

BRAIN: Fine, but make it optional so people don’t have to be subjected to your mush.

HEART: Deal.

Anyway, back to the larger matter at hand. I was thrown off by what had just happened and for some odd reason, I felt at fault. Yes, a man made an unwelcome pass at me and yet I’m the one who felt crappy.

Originally, I was going to make a list of how people can respond to this type of harassment. But the victim-blaming listicle is so played out. So instead, here are some tips for creeps on how to be less creepy.

  1. Don’t ever talk about your genitalia to strangers.
  2. No, you don’t need that telephoto lens.
  3. Stop, I said put it down.
  4. Don’t initiate conversations with people who clearly don’t want to speak to you.
  5. This includes both strangers and people you already know.
  6. Don’t send messages you wouldn’t want to show your mother/father/daughter/son/rabbi/whoever in life you deeply respect/Barack Obama.
  7. It is never OK to send mean/threatening/harassing messages to people over social media.
  8. Accept “no” as a full response to your advances.
  9. Don’t try to justify your creepy actions to others. It makes you look more like a creep.
  10. Please stop existing.

OK, this list is mostly joking, but you get the idea. Using social media is no longer optional for journalists. And this was only one time it went awry for me. I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to be subjected to harassment around the clock.

It’s a sad reality: We are going to be harassed sometimes simply for being journalists and/or writing about what we do. Or sometimes for being women. Or being both women and journalists. And sometimes, we’re going to get harassed just for existing. And that’s such a shame. So please, try to be courteous to people on the internet. And try to remember a human being is behind that glowing device.

Be nice to others. And if you can’t be, please —

fuck off.

Under construction

So here’s the thing no one ever tells you about being an adult- you never really stop working to attain the coveted status of “adult.”

I’m nearing the end of my internship, the end of 10 weeks living in a brand new city, working at a new job, paying rent/bills, grocery shopping, and well, being an adult.

Denver

I like to think I’ve been self-sufficient for a long time. I’ve had a job pretty consistently since I was 16 (even if it was just odd jobs like being a receptionist or tutoring) but I still lived with my parents and had the convenience of never really worrying about paying for my own shelter or even my own food.

And after more than two months of being completely, 100 percent independent, I thought “well, this is it, I’m an adult.” Except now my internship is ending and I won’t have a job in a week.

Denver

So I could easily go back to Texas, live with the parents until I figure things out, which sounds tempting. But instead I’m going to job hunt and keep adulting (yes, that’s totally a word).

You see, I was pretty bummed when I realized my internship wouldn’t turn into a full-time job. I thought I was just another recent grad who will be jobless and wage-less, that I somehow did this to myself- that I was young and dumb and not marketable.

But then I realized, this isn’t a young adult thing, this is a life thing. It’s not a reflection of my skills or talent. And I didn’t piss away my time in college (pardon my language but it’s true). I worked damn hard and my portfolio reflects that. I’ve been in the journalism game since I was a teenager.

Being an adult doesn’t mean you have everything figured out 100 percent of the time or that you seamlessly transition from one job or one city to another. It means that you don’t run home every time things get rough.

under construction

My coworkers (all at least 8 or more years older than me), have regaled me with the tales of their own job and life woes. One of them went from being an English major to being a teacher to doing odd jobs (like giving piano lessons) to eventually being a journalist. Another was a Denver Post reporter/editor for 30 years and then got laid off. And the person who co-founded the news organization just left to pursue a new career.

Age, experience, jobs- none of it makes you an adult. Jobs change and circumstances change. Being an adult isn’t really a destination, it’s more of a journey. A constant building process.

I think when most of us are younger, we think we’ll be handed a degree, a spouse and a job and that’ll be it. We’ll live the same life and have security for the rest of our days. But nothing could be further from the truth.

I’ve realized adulthood isn’t a brand new building we’re handed. We have to find the bricks ourselves and get to work. Being an adult means your life is constantly under construction- and that’s ok.

So I’m embracing the change. I’m embracing the adventure, the job hunt, the endless pursuit to be a journalist.

I don’t mind being under construction. It just means I’m getting taller, stronger-

reaching a little higher.

Denver

What does love look like?

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It’s funny to think about actually. Not like “ha ha” funny but that awkward funny when your mom tells you your grandma died and you legitimately believed she had died like 5 years ago so you just laugh because you already coped with the loss.

But it is funny in a dark way, nevertheless, to remember that 4 years ago I lost all my friends because I tried to kill myself and they stopped speaking to me (long story, not for now, but one day). And also 4 years ago today, courtesy of Timehop, I was brutally reminded that in addition to all my friends leaving me, I had also not gotten a job I really wanted, not qualified for a design competition and just generally had hit rock bottom. Like to the point of numbness. Not even sadness, just a complete robotic state of being where I neither hoped for life nor death.

And 5 years ago today was the first time my heart was broken.

So yeah, life on this day has been notoriously shitty (for lack of a better word).

Today reversed that pattern. I spent the day in Denver, walking around the museum with the boy. As we were leaving the mythical creatures exhibit, we turned the corner to the most glorious view. City park, the mountains, the city skyline- rolling clouds and overwhelming green filled my line of vision.

And my heart stopped.

As a journalist, and someone with major depression, I often spend a lot of time in the dark. The news is unkind, the world is unkind, my own mind can be unkind. So seeing this view, seeing this beauty, I felt something new. Something unheard of for someone like me- complete and honest to goodness heavenly joy.

IMG_0284

I had experienced it earlier this week as well. The sun rays cascaded perfectly over the mountaintops as I commuted home. The colors danced before my eyes and my heart sighed from relief- the darkness is ending. I can see the light once again.

I know things will not always be perfectly wonderful here. I won’t always get to see these colors.

I won’t always have a perfect week at work where I shadow a former Denver Post reporter at the Supreme Court, where I write a truly impactful article on higher education, where I love everything and everyone openly and fully.

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But for the moment, I am experiencing joy. A joy unlike any other. A joy that truly stands out for me because I have seen and felt the darkness of life. Because I remember so vividly what it felt like to lose it all, having it all back is a gift I never expected to receive.

This is a gift. This moment, this time. No matter how brief or passing, I will not forget these past few days or the ones to come. I will not lose this happiness just as I have not forgotten those moments of sadness.

I will not forget what it felt like to have tears of sadness replaced by tears of joy.

These are the days I have waited for. These are the days I fought for. I am in love with my life. And really, there is no greater love than that. To love this creation, this life, and to have it love you right back.

“She asked ‘you are in love, what does love look like’ to which i replied ‘like everything i’ve ever lost come back to me.’

I’ll go to it laughing

IMG_9562editA lot has changed since my last post. Namely, my job. I’m leaving the life of a small town freelance reporter/photographer to be a news intern with Chalkbeat. I’m obviously excited because 1. this is my dream beat- education news. 2. I’ll be very close to my boyfriend of 3 years 3. it’s a paid internship (which is like finding gold nuggets in an old shoe- basically, very difficult to get for a journalist) 4. this will be my home for at least 10 weeks 5. this is my dream.

I’ve struggled a lot, both professionally and personally. It’s hard being a journalist- the pay is shitty (pardon my language, but it is), the opportunities are few for the amount of people in the field, the hours are long, the degree is costly considering the limited job prospects that await you. And most importantly, it’s sad. This is a sad profession. Compounded with major depressive disorder, I basically set my self up for a life of struggle by entering this field.

But here’s the thing: I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve been really financially struggling and it’s not always easy (hence the 1 a.m. post) but I can’t imagine being anything else. There’s a fire in me and it can’t be extinguished. Its a flame, a spark, a passion for journalism. I love knowledge, I love learning, I love stories. And there are so many to tell, so many things to see, to photograph, to know- and I want to share all those things. I want people to see, to feel, to experience life as someone else. Journalism is the closest thing we have to helping people do that.

I think Ann Curry put it best- “Journalism is an act of faith in the future.” I love that. It keeps me going. What I do is done with the expectation that someday things will be better. Not just for my audience, my sources, my interviewees, but maybe for me as well.

Journalism is the only profession that would see the world ending and still plan for a print issue the next day. It is the only job where you wake up not knowing what may come your way, but pretending like you do. We see the chaos and the rubble and act like we saw it coming all along. Then we start the story for what comes after the rubble. We see the destruction and start writing the ledes for the rebuilding process. We do it while still joking, still with smiles and laughter, still with hope in our hearts that the story will be finished, printed and read. We do everything with the expectation that there will be more- and that’s beautiful.

It gives me hope. It gives me life. It gives me faith in something.

“I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.”

I don’t know what comes next for me. Maybe this will land be a job in Denver, maybe I’ll experience that sensation of being home, or maybe I’ll crash and burn. I have no idea. But I’ll go.

I’ll go to it laughing.

Women in Media: We’ve come a long way, but we still have further to go

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I remember the first time I stepped onto the Notre Dame football field. I was carrying a lens much too large for my petite 5-foot, 110-pound frame. I was surrounded by men who were much larger and much more experienced. I distinctly remember telling my sister that the only other females on the field were a few broadcast anchors and cheerleaders. But as far as photographers went, I stood alone.

Over the course of the season, I saw a few more female media professionals here and there. But as the sole Hispanic, female sports photographer, I often felt the stares of male reporters boring into me whenever I went into the press box. My hopeful side likes to believe I was just imagining this, but the comments on my size and gender always popped up.

“That lens is mighty big for you, dear.”

“Are you sure you’re in the right place?”

“Don’t get stampeded out there!”

“Hey, little lady. What are you doing here?”

I get it. I’m a female sports photographer. I’m not a unicorn.

Or at least, that’s what I thought. But the fact is, I was pretty rare and still am, which isn’t encouraging.

  • According to the International Women’s Media Foundation 73 percent of the top management jobs are occupied by men compared to 27 percent occupied by women.
  • Among the ranks of reporters, men hold nearly two-thirds of the jobs, compared to 36 percent held by women.
  • In addition, 64 percent of bylines and on-camera appearances went to men at the nation’s top 20 TV networks, newspapers, online news sites and news wire services.
  • For the nightly broadcasts on flagship evening news shows on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS, men anchored 60 percent of news broadcasts overall and provided 66 percent of reports from the field during the last quarter of 2013.
  • The Women’s Media Center reports that women are more likely to cover health, lifestyle news and least likely to cover crime, justice, world politics

So for those of you who don’t know, today is International Women’s Day. As a journalist/photographer I wanted to bring attention to the disparities that still exist for women in media, but it was also important for me to acknowledge the women who have brought us this far.

Nellie Bly

This was the pen name of Elizabeth Cochrane, a journalist who not only started her career at the tender age of 18, but did so with flare for social justice reporting. Bly went undercover at Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum for 10 days and exposed the brutal conditions being endured by the mentally ill. Due to my non-stop crusade for mental health awareness, it’s pretty obvious why I had to include her on this list. Her efforts eventually led to reforms at the institution. And her investigative journalism didn’t stop there. She arranged to be thrown in jail to expose the harsh treatment of female prisoners and worked in a sweatshop to document the poor conditions of the workers.

Anja Niedringhaus

The photojournalist for the Associated Press spent a majority of her career in war-torn countries, shedding light on these regions and the people being affected by never ending conflict. She was the only woman on a team of 11 AP photographers who won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography for their coverage of the Iraq War.

Marie Colvin

The American journalist was distinguishable by her trademark eye patch (she lost her left eye in a blast by a Sri Lankan Army rocket-propelled grenade). But the foreign correspondent was also known for her unwavering dedication to covering Middle Eastern conflict as well as Chechnya, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and East Timor. In 1999 she was credited with saving the lives of 1,500 women and children who were besieged in a compound by Indonesian-backed forces. She refused to leave them even as 22 journalist colleagues left. Reporting to the world on global television and in print, Colvin stayed behind with an unarmed UN force so she could bring attention to their plight. The publicity was rewarded when they were evacuated to safety after four days. This aptly illustrated her approach to journalism- for her, it was always about the innocents.

Mary Garber

The sportswriter paved the way for female journalists in sports. She was the first woman to be inducted into the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame and the first female to win the Associated Press Sports Editors Red Smith Award.

Margaret Fuller

Often regarded as the first female foreign correspondent, the American journalist was also a women’s rights advocate and feminist who campaigned for equal rights and social upheaval.

Laura Ling

I had privilege of meeting the Chinese American journalist who was held captive in North Korea while reporting on citizens who fled to China to escape the communist country’s strict regime. She remained in a pitch-black cell measuring 5 feet by 6 feet for 140 days. You can read more about her in this story I wrote on her incredible career.

I only provided a small sample, but here are more women who changed the media business.

The bottom line is this: men dominate media.

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And there is more to be done in the way of equality for women in media. But I thank my lucky stars that so many wonderful female journalists made it possible for me to even have a fighting chance.

I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day

Here are some belated photos from my trip to Colorado. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been playing with astrophotography for a while. I like to think my skills have vastly improved over time.

Here are some of my older attempts at astrophotography. I’ve photographed the Super Moon, a lunar eclipse and the Milky Way. And I hope to one day see the Aurora Borealis.

I love the sky, especially at night. It’s like looking at the heart of the world.