People wondered if I was running away again when I left New Jersey for California 16 years later. My sister Cara almost cried watching the film "Into the Wild," saying the movie's main character reminded her of me because he left his parents without telling them where he was going.
I quit a possible future as a journalist working in the media empire of the Tri-State Area and moved to California in October 2005. I had heard the Golden State had gorgeous beaches and redwood trees rising high in quiet forests. I found it hilarious that Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gary Coleman and a porn star were running for governor.
I found California's craziness appealing because it was different from what I was taught in school, at work - and especially at home.
"You should be in computers."
"You should be wearing better clothes."
"You should get married."
I was aching to leave those expectations behind and ensconce myself in California's mantra "of being with the moment." Although, I realized this particular state of mind didn't work so well due to my hyper personality.
I applied to the master's program in journalism at UC Berkeley with the aim of shoving my degree in front of my relatives' faces and saying: "Ha. I went to Berkeley. And where did you go to school?" I didn't get into Berkeley. I wrote my statement of purpose the day before the application deadline, and my draft contained numerous misspellings, disjointed paragraphs, fragments and redundancies. (I heard Professor Michael Pollan was ticked when I misspelled his name.)
My ego was shattered and I was distraught over what to do next. The only thing I had going for me was my job as a staff reporter for the Danville Weekly. I remember starting there Nov. 11, 2005, and sitting at my desk, looking out my window, hearing the calm and staring at the big Oak Tree. How the hell did I wind up here? I asked myself silently. Being in Danville felt like being in the Pennsylvanian town Punxsutawney in the film "Groundhog Day." Everything seemed so clean and perfect and everyone was so enthusiastic about their town that it drove me crazy at first.
But a dear friend of mine - who isn't talking to me now for reasons I will not disclose - shared his wisdom in understanding relationships.
"You have choices," he said. "You can fret and revel in your own self-righteous indignation."
He stomped his foot for dramatic effect.
"Or you can respond by saying, 'Mmmmm....That's intriguing,'" he said.
"There are both easy and difficult relationships," he continued. "Both are valuable and reveal something distinctly authentic that is inherent inside of you."
Then it clicked, but it took work.
I explored my creativity within the bounds of the small weekly, collaborating with a dynamic and talented staff. Together, we brainstormed ideas regarding different story angles, cover concepts, photos and layout design. I wrote stories about being black in Danville, spirituality, special education, religion, Islam and Judaism, entrepreneurship, crime (even though there wasn't much). I saw the world through the eyes of strangers with different views and wrote about their experiences.
I rode the Goodyear Blimp above the San Francisco Bay, seeing the wonderful watery swells and the sunny haze above the city. I went to the halls of the state Capitol for a glimpse of state politics. I visited Richmond High School with the idea of doing a comparative story between a student there and one at Monte Vista. I experimented with my writing, which was often over-the-top, causing my editor to roll her eyes and tell me: "No, that's just doesn't work."
The other enjoyable aspect of the job was getting to know my sources, the different personalities in this area. After working here for more than two years, I am surprised how large my business card file is and how many people in town know me. A town councilman nominated me to participate in the San Ramon Valley Leadership program, and I was flattered.
But the most important experience working for the Danville Weekly was it reminded me why I became a writer: the love of the creative word. I devoted my energies to reading and writing when I moved to Danville in mid-August, fortunate to find a nice home (occupied with three other crazy roommates) in a peaceful neighborhood. My rent was cheaper and I was tired of commuting from Oakland and hearing quarreling neighbors scream and bang against the doors in my apartment building. I also wasn't fond of the drug addicts and prostitutes at a nearby cafe.
Now my journey with the Danville Weekly has run its course. I want to say a big thank you to Danville for indirectly helping guide me through my growing pains. Later!