The Monster

My byline sat atop every story I wrote for the past two-and-a-half years but with each edition I slowly lost a part of myself.

The reporter was stealing my life. There was a monster inside of me, in my mind, always lurking above, below the surface. I was afraid that if I didn’t kill it, it would kill me first. Sean Dolan stopped being a reporter so I could live. By the way, who am I?

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Metaphor?

There was a day that Sean Dolan couldn’t go to work. He couldn’t be a reporter that day. He couldn’t stop thinking about suicide. He was trapped in his bed, filled with anxiety and depression and fear and guilt and so many emotions that ended in hopelessness. He didn’t want to go back to the newsroom that another called suffocating or that courthouse where poverty, mental illness, substance addiction and overwhelming sadness are always present. I imagined what it would be like for my Mom and Dad to travel to Colorado from Virginia and walk into the duplex where their son died. I told my Editor I couldn’t go to work that day.

Sean Dolan stopped caring about covering these fucking redneck assholes who can’t seem to understand the concept of returning a damn phone call. They all love their guns and spreading fear more than they care about living. There is a victim mentality, a sense of entitlement, in rural, white America.

This is our land. We’ve been here for four generations. If you don’t like how we do things, then leave.

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And we leave our shotgun shells and beer bottles whereever we damn please.

Excuse me, sir, but the land itself has been here for many, many more generations. What even is a generation to nature? You do not own it. You have no claim. Your rights do not exist. You follow the law of man but you seem to have forgotten the laws of nature, my friend, and what about the Natives? Or the Anasazi? The ruins are right over there, but, I am sorry, you have been grazing and homesteading this land for the past four generations. I should step out of your way. Sorry. I don’t belong in the world you stole.

Hey, Sean, stop thinking that way.


I want to get back to that feeling of standing in the kitchen of my childhood home knowing I would never step foot in that house again, as my Dad kicked me out and was going to sell it, and that I might go to Australia. A beam of energy surged through me —  as I thought about the possibilities of life — from my feet to the crown of my head. I want to find that feeling, harness it. Untethered freedom.

That feeling of sitting in the dirt on the side of the rough, two-lane road beneath the Southern Alps with my thumb out, heading further south further south further south more south than I have ever been. Back then, I was on the spiritual path. I was trying to figure out who I am, but I lost all sense when I became a reporter in chains.

For the first time in two-and-a-half years, I feel like I am back on track. Me. Not Sean Dolan.


Page views is all that matters here. Shock and awe. Death and disaster. Chaos. Staff cuts. Newsroom consolidation. Parent company sold. Publisher fired. Editor quits. HR rep quits. Reporter quit. Everyone quits. Downsize. Misery. Two papers. Two-and-a-half years. The train never stops so you better keep up.

Car crash on the bridge, fatal, run past cars parked on the highway. Take a picture, not knowing someone died in that classic yellow pickup. Call sheriff. Call fire chief. Call state patrol, fatal, he said. House fire, fatal, interview the man who just lost his partner, burned. Take a picture. Call sheriff. Call fire chief. She died and you interviewed a man who just lost everything except his dog.

Do you hear that siren? It’s snowing. Turn on your police scanner app. Dispatch just said what mile marker the semi vs. subaru crash is at so you better get your jacket and and grab your camera and start driving. Is was fatal, later, after a coma. I didn’t follow up.

Drive to three car crashes in one day and send your photos and info to the Editor on his day off, but he never takes a day off. Chaos. Protect yourself. Don’t get sued. Don’t get in a car crash. You should just stay in your house where it’s safe and you can smoke weed and perseverate about your stories.

It’s dark in the newsroom when you come back from the last crash and the Editor is sequestered in his office. I’m on two hours of overtime now, so I shouldn’t work anymore. I gave him everything but the story isn’t up. I can tell he is sad, maybe frustrated, definitely lonely, when I leave. He is alone with his newspaper. I felt guilty, leaving him there with the car crash and Facebook.

Now I’ve completely abandoned him. Sean Dolan had to do it so I could live. I’m sorry.


My first day as a housekeeper at the Holiday Inn Express by the National Park was unusual.

Me and Patrice — who commutes one hour from the reservation in Utah for a job that pays Colorado state minimum wage for five or six hours a day — were supposed to watch Cory, the veteran, clean the fuck out of a hotel room like she has done for 20 years, but Maintenance was going to turn off the water in an hour so we had to clean all the bathrooms first. I didn’t really get the whole picture of how to clean a room. It’s not rocket appliances, though.

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Yeah, definitely a metaphor.

I quit being a reporter on a Friday, had a job interview at the hotel on Saturday and started cleaning on Monday. I have worked in hotels and resorts before, in food and beverage, but they were all in Australia so now I constantly fight the urge to call everyone mate and say, “How ya goin?”

The work isn’t bad but it gets stressful when your cart wasn’t refilled the day before and Laundry hasn’t restocked the storage room. It’s not bad if you’re assigned to the first floor, but when you’re on the far side of the third floor and have to briskly walk across the entire hotel to find a queen firm pillow case and you’re supposed to clean a room in 25 minutes, the stress can build. Breathe.

Today, the first day of week two, went swimmingly. Everything was in its right place. Rooms not too messy. Satisfaction. Clock out and there is no monster lurking because I killed it. I’m still lonely though. It’s hard to meet people out here in this isolated town — especially if you never try. Change that, please.


I have now returned to the spiritual path and I already remember what I began to learn in New Zealand. I have time now for it and space in my mind, now that I’ve killed the monster.

They, the unnamed spirits, have already reminded me that if I ask for help, they are there. If I slow down, if I listen, if I am willing to accept spiritual knowledge, they will provide it. They provide happiness, affirmation that you and now are all you need.

Go for a walk, clear your mind, they will drift in.

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How the fuck did I end up in southwest Colorado?

I started reading a book called “Meditation,” by Eknath Easwaran. He told me to wake up early and don’t be rushed. He told me working constantly, eating unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes and giving your body little to no exercise is a recipe for a heart attack, which is something I am concerned might happen to the Editor.

Easwaran told me that the first stage of meditation is to realize that you are not the body. The second step is to realize you are not the mind. So what are you then? That’s the third step. Figuring that part out. I don’t know where it leads.

I am starting down a long path that I believe will help me control my mind, control my emotions, manage my stress, manage my depression so that Sean Dolan can someday be a reporter again. Journalism needs me, at least that’s what a reader told me once.

My therapist said today that he is excited for me. I am excited too. I don’t think I’m crazy.


I jumped off the train that never stops. Journalism is grueling, toilsome work with pay that doesn’t match the emotional damage and mental stress. You finish a story that took several days, hours and then all you hear is negativity. Nothing changes. Your story doesn’t matter. And tomorrow you have to find something new to write about that won’t matter.

You never hear from the print readers who genuinely appreciate your work. Reporters only hear the anger and hatred. They are forced to live in it.

Sean Dolan had to stop being a reporter so that I could live. The spirits have told me that Sean Dolan is a powerful creator, but I need to work on myself before he can save the world, save humanity from itself. 

Yes, the stakes are that high.

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Oh, Martha

My darling Martha,

I’ve entered the most wonderful territory, my darling Martha. They call it Colorado. The laws are quite novel and fascinating. A strange herb is sold just about everywhere and I did purchase a quantity as soon as I crossed the border. They call it cannabis. It has strange properties that can change perception and make one feel quite funny. It’s marvelous, my darling Martha.

I entered this Colorado Territory on my iron wagon when the sun was high, the air hot and the land desertous. This landscape is vast with sagebrush hills and buttes of red ochre. Brutal and violent if you lose your wits. Constant wind saps the strength from man and beast alike. I have spent some time in such a climate in my previous travels, my darling Martha, and I believe I know the basics of survival here. Do not fear for me. In my iron wagon I hold a large supply or water, beans, grain, oats, coffee and now this cannabis, which they also call marijuana. For it is legal here. The people of Colorado are lucky now to have this cannabis

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The desert is unforgiving, my darling Martha, but do not fear for me.

There is one thing, however, about this Colorado. The air turns to grey in the not-so-far distance in all directions. Before coming here I heard reports of wildfires to the south of Colorado, which certainly motivated me take the northern route, which is more remote and less populated. Smoke is also floating in from the burgeoning California Republic on with west coast, the people here say. It is possible that new wildfires could form here as it is like a tinder box, my darling. I can only hope these wildfires stay far from me.

Yet this Colorado is wonderful. As I crossed the border, I entered what they call a Welcome Center. A fine gentleman greets you at this Welcome Center and simply exists there in this small building to inform you of your whereabouts and the surrounding area as well as advice on where to pitch your tent for the evening. Why, my darling Martha, you’ll never believe what he told me.

This here is state land in the yellow, he said pointing to a map that he gave me free of charge, and that means it’s public land. Nearly all of the surrounding areas around these parts are state lands, the kind man said. I inquired about a suitable spot to lay my head and he recommended that I use one of two dirt tracks that branch from the main road in the public land, where camping is and all sorts of activity are permitted. I asked if I could venture there with my small iron wagon down these dirt tracks, for I do not have one of these larger wagons that can traverse nearly any terrain. He said he recommended this one here as he pointed so that is here I went.

I first drove to the lookout point with a public restroom, in which I did urinate, my darling Martha, and I saw from there the most spectacular views of vast crimson cliffs and sheets of rock down in the valley that seemed to have been formed by lava flows, for the texture was rippled. There were far off ranges yet, as I mentioned, the air is quite thick with this smoke from far off wildfires.

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The air is hazy, my darling Martha. Wildfires rage in the west, but fear not. I will come home to you.

It was time then to set up camp. I used my hatchet to drive my tent stakes deep into the hard-caked red dirt. Yes indeed, my darling Martha, it is a strong shelter. Do not fear for me.

Upon erection, I rolled some of this marijuana of the sativa variety in a cigarette paper, for they smoke this herb similar to the manner in which a cigarette is smoked, and upon smoking this marijuana cigarette, I began feeling quite different, as if my mind were programmed differently, my darling Martha. For I began to hear the silence of this Colorado desert, for there is not much wildlife here or loud insects or any noises at all. As I began smoking that marijuana cigarette, I became aware of the overwhelming silence of the desert.  I listened to the silence and took another drag of that marijuana cigarette, for it is legal here, and listened to the sizzle and burn of the cannabis. And then, again, silence. It makes one lethargic and content, I have found. Hungry as well.

I have purchased cannabis of the indica variety which they say acts as a relaxant and a sleep aide. I will try that one before I turn in this evening, and I hope to sleep much sounder than I had been in recent days in being in my apartment in the city.

It is good, my darling Martha, to be away from the city. The life of a newspaper reporter in that pioneer town takes its toll. The land is wild there and the people are still learning to govern themselves as society grows. It is much different from the established cities dotting the eastern coast, my darling, where you reside and where I am headed. There is much talk back there of personal freedom, yet here in Colorado there is cannabis in every town and vast tracks of public land and a Welcome Center open on this day, a Sunday, and there is a kind man there.

Now I will need to get some rest, for I plan on heading deeper into this land on the morrow and I wish to rise early to travel ahead of the heat. For it is hot and dry, my darling Martha, in this Colorado Territory.

 

All my love,

Walter

Stupid

When I was learning to drive, my Dad would tell me that people are stupid. People are stupid, he would say, they might pull out or slow down or turn off. People are stupid and you shouldn’t trust them.

He was talking to me, a teenager, about how to drive, but I knew that he meant it about people in general. I thought people are stupid for a while and then I lived and traveled and met people from from the World and I thought maybe people aren’t stupid. I thought my Dad was wrong. He felt superior, maybe. And then I came back to my own country and I’m not so sure anymore.

I went shopping in a Walmart in Utah this morning and just looking at people I wondered about their lives, about what goes on in their heads. What do they think about when they pick out the milk and the meat and the sodas and the processed foods. What do they think about when they put on those clothes or put their hair up in that way or put that makeup on their eyes. I wondered why they would have so many children and why they all just stand in front of my cart until I say excuse me after 30 seconds, just waiting. I wonder if they know what it’s like to just be alone and think. Do they just live?

I wonder about people when I write stories for the newspaper and I read the comments from people in this isolated valley and I wonder why people think these things. I wonder how people can be so stupid. Why do they hate people who are different when their God tells them to love. They water their lawns in the desert and they drink sodas and eat meat and they farm dairy and they drive big, loud trucks and they have a boat, a trailer, a camper, a four-wheeler. They fly Confederate flags and pray.

All these things I am morally opposed to. The Hydrologist told me there isn’t going to be snow in Utah by 2080 if humans continue emitting carbon. That’s where the water comes from out west, from the snow up in the mountains. Like a bank. They won’t be able to keep their lawns green and they won’t have water to grow crops to feed their dairy cows. Why don’t they think about this. It will be 2080 in a few days. Why doesn’t anyone care?

They have lived here for generations, in this isolated valley, like their grandparents and parents and they always hear the same thing. Life here is one big tradition. But I am an outsider and I have been to the upside down. I have seen the Truth and I have seen what we are. We are wrong and we are killing ourselves and we consume consume consume without thinking. I don’t think they have seen that. They think their god tells them that everything is for them and they are the Israelites. Everybody thinks they are the Israelites. But there are no Israelites. Somebody just made it up to make you feel special.

I dropped acid with my sister at our cousin’s wedding with our whole family in the hotel, below, and I was compelled by the forces there to do yoga in the hotel room. I saw it. When I did yoga I was able to see it. Everything. I saw us. We are all in the twisting, shifting, malleable nether and we are all floating through, in, out, up, down, around. Across. We are moving in it. I saw everyone. I saw my Mom. She had so many dark hands and arms pulling her down. My brother was holding hands with his wife and they were floating on, in peace. That’s how I saw them. But my Mom, she had so many dark pulses around her. It was her Mother, her Sisters, telling her she is a coon ass. Her husband telling her who to be. Her children sucking the life out of her. They made her. We all made her. I understood, just then, that you can’t judge anyone for anything. We are all a product of moments, relationships, struggle. We didn’t live the life they lived. How would they know any better.

None of us are ourselves. We are a reflection, a mirror. I have lived for 27 years and six months and I am here, now, thinking these thoughts because of every insignificant decision and random event. I went to a therapist in Virginia when I returned from it all and she told me I should do what I want to do. Dance in the rain, she told me. Dance in the rain. If she didn’t tell me to dance I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t write for the newspaper and see the stupid comments or go to the Walmart in Utah and see the people. I don’t know why they wear those clothes or why they put that makeup on their eyes because I am not them. I wasn’t born where they were born. I didn’t grow up with parents and grandparents telling me to move the cattle, to get up early and milk the cows. I grew up with sidewalks and property taxes and well-funded schools. I grew up with a Dad who told me people are stupid.

But we change. We see things, experience things that change us. If I didn’t work on that dairy farm in New Zealand with Digger and steal the baby cows I wouldn’t be vegan. I would still be lost and ignorant. Before the farm, before I was me, I slammed the cabinets in the home where I grew up and my Stepmother kicked me out. So I went to the other side and saw everything and I would never have gone there or be here if I didn’t slam the cabinets. Maybe people aren’t stupid. Maybe they just never slammed the cabinets.

Advice from a NYT pro

Editor’s note: This actually happened.

Stories From a Drifter: What advice do you have for journalists who are struggling with declining readership, newsroom staff cuts, low pay and stagnant wages?

Nicholas Kristof: I think the business model issue is the big problem. And I don’t think there’s going to be a good solution to that. I think philanthropy may help in some places. Uhh, but, I think a lot of journalism is — especially local journalism — is going to be really kind of screwed for years to come until we find some kind of better business model. And, so, you know, for the individuals, I don’t have a great answer other than try to develop the skill sets that people are moving toward, you know, with multimedia, and this kind of thing, because it makes one more marketable. And the skill set is — even if one ends up doing something else — the skill set in journalism is incredibly useful I think in anything else but it’s going to be, it is rough times and it will continue to be rough times in journalism.

SD: Any advice for someone who wants to start being, like, some sort of foreign correspondent out there in the world?

NK: Umm, you know, one option is work for an English language paper in, like in Hong Kong, there is the South China Morning Post, or in Bangkok, the Bangkok Post, or wherever it may be. Those papers will often be willing to hire an American native English speaker who’s got journalism experience and it may not be, it may not pay great, but the cost of living is usually pretty low and it could be a great experience in a different country so that might be something to think about.

The Simulation

KF: So lemme get this straight. A bunch of heavily-armed men killed 30 civilians with drones and one of their own men died and the TV networks are playing sappy music and showing the dead man’s face as they go to commercial. You don’t see the problem with that?

JT: Are you saying you don’t care about the troops? One of our men died out there in the desert.

KF: Yeah, so did 30 people who weren’t involved with whatever was going on. I thought all lives matter?

JT: Yeah, but they’re different, they’re used to this stuff. They don’t know any better.

KF: All I’m saying is, take a look at this from a neutral point of view and think about who are the terrorists.

JT: Dude, Americans aren’t terrorists. We don’t believe in that. Everything we do is because we want to help these countries. We just believe in freedom.

KF: Name the two biggest terrorists organizations.

JT: Al Qaeda and ISIS.

KF: How about Israel and the United States? They are like a couple of terrorist bullies who do whatever they want. But the people who are in power can call it whatever they like. They are just spreading freedom or trying to protect our interests — they call it defense.

JT: Man, you better watch out you know they might see this, right?

KF: I type everything I write in Google Docs. They are always watching. They know where my cursor is right now. They are probably watching me through my webcam, too. Whatever, call me a voyeur.

JT: You’re typing right now? I thought we were talking face-to-face.

KF: Hey, you can think whatever you want. I know what I’m doing.

JT: Fuck, I’m becoming too aware I can’t last much longer.

KF: I thought that might happen. Well, maybe I’ll see you next week. I’ll still be here.