Tough Stories and Occupational Anhedonia

Hot Jesus on a stick, you guys.

I think Jon didn’t understand why I did not answer his query yesterday of, “do you want a really freaking cool story,” with jumping jacks and/or extreme enthusiasm.

I did not respond with jumping jacks and/or extreme enthusiasm for a reason. It was because sometimes I can just read Jon’s tone and I can tell that while he’s right that what he’s about to lay on me is, in fact, a great story from the perspective of a journalist who wants a big story, it’s also a heavy story from the perspective of someone who has to work really hard to maintain boundaries between her empathy and her work.

And I’m both of those people.


In Didion’s collection of essays, “Slouching Toward Bethelehem,” in which she covers the cultural zeitgeist of San Francisco at the height of the hippie movement, Didion meets a five-year-old named Susan, who is on LSD during their interview, and tells Didion that she goes to “High Kindergarten.”

In the Netflix biopic of her life, her nephew Griffin asks her the ultimate open-ended question that can’t possibly expect any sort of real answer: “What was that like?”

After thinking hard for a moment or two, Joan answers that, “…let me tell you, it was gold.” I can see a lot of people who’ve never written recoiling in horror at that statement. I can see myself, prior to writing for a newspaper, recoiling in horror from that statement. Didion catches a lot of flack from her critics for coming off as “cold” and “dispassionate.”

I couldn’t find that to be farther from the truth. I think that what her critics are misinterpreting is the ability to process events, to record impressions, to basically approach life, with her emotional and her intellectual selves cleanly disconnected. For a journalist, that is an absolute requirement. This story I’m working on right now, that I won’t discuss in detail until I’ve had a chance to file it, is testing me in this way.

It’s a terrible, tragic, heart wrenching story as a mother, as a woman, and as human being.

And I need to investigate it and write about it inhumanly.

Then, when that’s been done, I need to marry the two to connect readers with the woman I interviewed (you just time traveled four hours into the future in my life between the last ‘graph and this one, FYI, and I’ve gone from going to interview her to having done so) but also to convey the plot, AND to move on when I’m through.

What Didion does so well, what I envy her so greatly for, is her ability to separate the plot from the story. That is also why I’m so raring to read “The Year of Magical Thinking.” I’m anxious to see how her voice is different when her subject is so strictly herself.

I think it’s interesting to see how she worked on that border between journalism and personal narrative as the two were sort of congealing. Hunter Thompson is another member of the New Journalism club whose voice represents the opposite end of that spectrum – he’s loud and manic, brash, humorous, and unapologetic, whereas Didion is sort of chill all the time, even when she’s being humorous – and whose voice I just goddamn adore.


Wow. Today, I heard a story and talked to a woman who stunned me and I can’t wait to write it. And, I can’t wait to share it with you.

I’ve been struggling, this last year or so, with feeling as passionate about the work as I did in my first year. I still love it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But I’ve sort of aged this past year in terms of work. In terms of who I am, too I think. It’s not that the novelty has wore off but more that I’ve become wore out.

Which will happen. Writing every day will have that effect. But I think that a lot of my personal issues have been wearing me down too, and making stories I might have gotten jacked from sort of meh.

I guess I’d call it something like occupational anhedonia?

And it’s shown. In the writing, it has shown. The last couple of weeks, though, something has been coming back to life. I have to assume that it’s because something in me is once again changing.

I hope so, anyhow.

I’ll be finishing the story tomorrow and filing it. Once it runs in the paper I’ll do a post on it. I may column it too. There have been two stories that have gotten me kinda half-jacked so far this year, and it’s been good to feel something stirring down low again. Maybe good interviews is a column theme I should pursue.

I was planning on Black Humor of Valentine’s Day but…it feels like a predictable trope. Especially for me.

We’ll see.

On to yoga.

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