Caine’s Arcade: A little LA boy creates a cardboard world

Taipei Arcade Games
Taipei Arcade Games (Photo credit: Michael Kwan (Freelancer))

Have you heard — surely, yes, by now if you live in the U.S. — about Caine’s Arcade?

Here’s the link.

In one of those unlikely fairy tales, a nine-year-old boy named Caine Monroy decided to build an entire amusement arcade out of cardboard boxes and packing tape. He created “fun passes” and used calculators to make sure each pass was legit. His arcade had every variety of game but the place, at the back of his father’s east Los Angeles auto body shop, lacked the crucial element — customers. Most people now buy auto parts on the Internet.

Until Nirvan Mullick, a film-maker, needed one for his old car.

He found Caine, played in his arcade, made a film — and asked everyone he knew to come and play there. They did. The event made NBC Nightly News and a college scholarship (and college prep tutoring) fund has topped $145,000 for Caine, a sweet-faced kid in a bright blue T-shirt.

Although — as someone not wild about traditional college education — I wonder where his amazing imagination would flourish best. Cal Arts?

It’s an astonishing video and I hope you’ll make the time, 10 minutes, to watch it.

It embodies everything I love:

Having a dream

Being persistent enough to make it into something real, even when no one is looking

Finding the tools to build your imagined world

Making stuff up from scratch

Finding someone who believes in you

Having that someone believe in you so much they want to do whatever they can to help you succeed.

I suspect for some people Caine’s win is that he’s now “famous”. It’s not.

The grin on his face when he saw how many people had finally shown up to play in his world was one of the sweetest sights you can imagine.

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Twelve Tips For Women Traveling Alone

Waikawau Bay in the Coromandel Peninsula
The Coromandel, in New Zealand...Heaven on earth! Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been alone in many places: D.C., Vancouver, Istanbul, Ko Phi Phi, Palermo, Key West, Tunis. I live to travel and, many times, there’s no one with the same budget, interests, schedule or passions with whom to share a journey.

So I happily go alone.

My mother traveled the world alone for many years — all throughout Latin America in her 40s, the South Pacific, overland from London to the Mideast, India. She taught me not only to be (safely) fearless, but to keep a current passport and a passion for using it.

Here are twelve tips for solo women travelers of all ages:

Know where you’re going. What are their underlying beliefs, customs, rituals, dress? The countryside of Portugal, for example, was even tougher than urban Istanbul for relentless male attention or harassment. Even catching someone’s gaze was unwise. Some cities have their own codes of dress: wear Easter egg pastels, baggy sweats, white athletic shoes or nude hose in downtown Manhattan (or Paris!) and, yes, you’ll be viewed as a tourist and treated accordingly.

Do your homework and decide how much you want to stand out or blend in; as a woman alone, blending in is usually the wiser, safer option. (Headscarves, long sleeves, a salwar kameez, etc.) It shows respect for where you are, which will often be returned with more welcoming treatment. Speaking some of the local language is also a key way to signal this.

Do your homework. There are many ways to determine which areas, streets or neighborhoods are more or less safe for a solo woman. One of my favorite resources is The Thorn Tree, an online bulletin board on the Lonely Planet website. When I and my then best friend, two blonds from NY (albeit savvy and well-traveled) were heading off to Venezuela for a week, we posted some specific questions there and found fantastic, detailed answers (even a local travel agent we used) from a British ex-pat then in Mexico.

Read the local newspaper. Find out what’s happening, and not just on-line. Read the editorials and op-eds; what are people talking about there and why? Read letters to the editor. What sort of fun events are listed for the weekend? Key: if you’re in a part of the world where men are relentlessly going to try to catch your eye and chat you up, hiding behind a spread-out broadsheet is a great choice. Worked for me in Spain and Portugal.

Unplug from technology. For several reasons. If you’re in a poorer, rural environment, be sensitive to the lives of people who may be living on $1 -2 per day. If you’re going somewhere to see, smell, taste and hear it, be there. Remain open to it in every way possible.

A set of earbuds shuts you off from potential conversation, advice — and warnings. I would never ever walk around plugged in, alone, in many parts of the world. You must remain aware of your surroundings to stay safe.

Pay attention. This will make your trip more social, fun and interesting, but will also keep you safe. Look around — are there other women there as well? Are they safe? What are they wearing? How are they behaving? In many more socially conservative parts of the world, women don’t leave their home without the officially sanctioned accompaniment of a child, husband or parent.

A woman alone there, to the larger culture, often reads: looking…sexual…naive. Even if you’re not.

Do some of your favorite activities. I took a ballet class in Paris, and mid back-bend, stared up into hand-painted 18th-century ceiling beams. In Coayacan, a suburb of Mexico City, I took a watercolor class and finally learned how to work more effectively on larger pieces. In Los Angeles, I galloped through the dusty hills of Griffiths Park at sunset, then danced to live blues at Harvelle’s, an 80-year-old nightclub in Santa Monica. Heaven!

Take a yoga, spinning or dance class. Attend service at a local church or synagogue.

Take a hike! Get into nature, wherever you end up: walk along the river or lakeside; rent a canoe or kayak or sailboat; go for a bike ride. Pack a pair of running shoes and some comfy workout clothes so you can take advantage of the great outdoors wherever you are. Great way to meet locals — and their dogs.

Plan your evenings. I admit it, evenings can be tougher when you’re alone and female. Do you really want to venture out alone, for a meal, a show, a concert? Yes! But use your hotel concierge — or even a youth hostel’s evening group events — to help you make safe, wise, fun choices. I always search for concerts and museum shows at every city I plan to visit, and build in time to enjoy what the locals love. Splurge on cabs when necessary.

Sit at the bar. That’s where people on their own are often happiest and most comfortable, not just boozers chatting up the bartender. I had a great conversation in a dive bar in Atlanta with a young man working in finance as we whiled away the early evening. Many of a city’s best restaurants serve meals at the bar, where you can feel less obvious and self-conscious as a woman out alone, and a good barkeep will keep an eye on you.

Plan for the beach. I always take a small plastic case I can tuck into my bathing suit, which will hold my credit card/debit card/cash, freeing me to swim or snorkel without worrying someone is nabbing my stuff. If you like to sail, kayak, canoe, snorkel, surf….check out local facilities and build them into your trip; always take a bathing suit, windbreaker and golf or baseball cap to protect your head.

Stay sober. Seriously. Only once in my life (boring, but true) have I gotten really drunk, at a bar in San Francisco (not on purpose  — long day, empty stomach) and was able to stagger safely the few blocks back to my hotel. Insanity. True insanity.

No matter how lonely, depressed or vacay-ish you’re feeling, getting drunk or stoned around strangers is a profoundly stupid and potentially life-threatening choice. You’re alone. Who’s going to offer your medical history to the EMTs or ER? Or the police?

Be open to meeting people. I’ve enjoyed meals and even overnight stays in the homes of strangers I’ve met along the way, from the Cote d’Azur to the Coromandel Peninsula. One of the greatest pleasures of traveling alone, as a woman, is how many people are happy to welcome you into their lives and homes. I met a flight attendant from Paraguay at Honolulu airport, shared a cab with her and, realizing how cheaply she got her hotel room, buddied up with her for the week. In New Zealand, four lovely kids in their 20s met me at the youth hostel, adopted me, took me to a beach house, then home to a hill-top mansion outside Auckland. When they all waved goodbye to me at the airport, it was terribly hard to leave!

Not every man is out to get you or jump you! Not every friendly conversation is some sort of trap.

But some are.

Learning to quickly and accurately suss out the good ‘uns will keep you safe and send you back home with indelible, amazing memories.(My very worst experiences, i.e. criminal ones, happened in my suburban New York town. Maybe because my guard was down?)

Here’s a great website with resources for solo female travelers and here’s a list with six other smart tips.

What tips have you found helpful in your journeys?

Broke and Pregnant In The Recession: Another Caitlin’s New Memoir

Bar Harbor Maine, located on Mount Desert Island
Bar Harbor, Maine, the author's birthplace. Image via Wikipedia

Caitlin Shetterly, in her mid-30s, was a freelance writer and NPR contributor who decided — just before the recession bit so hard — it was a good time to realize a lifelong dream and move from her native Maine to California with her new husband, Dan, a freelance photographer.

Within weeks of moving to L.A., though, she found herself unexpectedly pregnant and so violently ill with morning sickness she could barely stand up, let alone earn a living.

Desperate and scared, she and Dan and baby Matthew finally called her Mom, living in a cabin in rural Maine, to ask for refuge. They then drove all the way back across the country and moved in with her for a few months while they got back on their feet.

“Made for You and Me” is the result, a recession memoir.

Caitlin’s story was broadcast in a series of audio diaries on NPR, prompting offers of money, jobs and a place to stay from some listeners — and opprobrium from others who felt her choices quixotic at best, misguided at worst.

Here’s an excerpt from the book.

I went into Manhattan a few weeks ago to hear her read and meet her for the first time; we agreed to blog about one another’s new books, both of which offer a personal window into this recession.

Q: Tell us a bit about your husband.

His name is Daniel E. Davis. He’s in graduate school getting an MFA in Photography. He hopes to teach.

Q: What made you want to write this book (beyond economic need?)
Writing this book was a natural outgrowth of my blog, Passage West, which I began when Dan and I first went west to California. Then, when my series of audio diaries aired on NPR it was every evident that there was a hunger for an honest story about how the recession was really affecting regular Americans.

Q: Give us a bit of your education and background
I was born in Bar Harbor, Maine. I was raised in Gouldsboro, Maine on sixty acres in the woods–my parents were part of the back-to-the-land movement. We moved to a small town down the coast from Gouldsboro when I was 7. I went to high school in Blue Hill, Maine and to Brown, where I majored in English and American Literature.

Q: Did you always plan/hope to be an author/actress/journalist?
I came from a creative family, so I don’t know that I really knew how to do anything else other than create. I published my first essay when I was twelve — writing for me was always an outlet, one that I needed. And, while at Brown, I fulfilled a second major (undeclared) in painting. In a way, I just followed what fed me emotionally and artistically, and I went with those.

Q: As you headed west to California, what did you expect to find or create there? Individually and as a couple?
Well, I had already been told by NPR that they needed me out there reporting on theatre. I’d already filed one theatre piece from L.A. and they had loved it. I had been filing on theatre for a while and they needed someone like me out west. Dan had already set up some work in L.A.
But I think in many ways we went west with all the bravado of the Pioneers; this is an iconic journey, one that one makes not only to work, but also to find themselves and, even more, to find themselves as Americans. And we fulfilled that.

Q: When you became pregnant (at what age?) did you never consider an abortion? Not even once discuss it? You do not mention this in the book. It was, as everyone knows, a very tough time to add another mouth to feed.
No, I would never have considered such a thing. First of all, when I became pregnant in the late winter/ spring of 2008, the U.S. had not yet entered the depths of the recession. We were just beginning something we did not yet know was going to really rock our foundations. But no matter what, I would have kept my child. Becoming a mother is the most important, most deep, most beautiful thing that ever happened in my life. The timing may not have been convenient, but I was always thrilled at the prospect of having my son.

Q: As you began your NPR audio diaries, how did that feel for you and your husband?
It was hard. Putting our lives out there was hard. But there were gifts because Americans all across the country reached out to us and that made us know, in our bodies, the goodness of people, the goodness of Americans.

Q: What surprised you most about the public reaction to your diaries and plight?
I was surprised by the men who wrote to me suggesting that my husband was a wimp or I never should have married him. I believe this recession has been called a “Mancession” by some people, and it really has been. More men have lost their jobs than women. So, to suggest that my husband was less of a man, was bizarre. I think it gets to something mean that can happen when people are down, there’s always someone who wants to kick them.

Q: What was the toughest single moment (if you can pick one) of this experience?
The days before we left California to drive back across America to move in with my mother in Maine, were the hardest.

Q: The best?
The whole experience was also the best thing in my life. I got a beautiful son out of it. I have a husband I love, and we went through this really important, hard time together, I came home to my family. There was so much beauty in hard times.

Q: How has this changed you?
I’m a nicer person. I smile at strangers –this is something I decided to do when our lives were going to hell in a hand basket. I started smiling at gardeners and people in cars next to me, at people on the street. I still do this. Our marriage is stronger and more honest. We really know each other now and we got through a hard time by talking to each other.

Pad Your Ass! Buy These Panties And It's Booty-Time

{008/100 Possibilities} Villain Made A Friend ...
Nice booty! Image by vmiramontes via Flickr

In case your butt isn’t sufficiently curvaceous.

From The Wall Street Journal:

When Tara Rachel Benson went out on a recent night to an album release party in Los Angeles, she put on her makeup, a tight-fitting Herve Leger dress, stiletto heels—and a pair of padded panties.

“It’s part of the whole outfit,” says Ms. Benson, a 25-year-old assistant to a music manager. Wearing the Booty Pop brand of underwear, which contain egg-shaped foam pads to plump up the posterior, “I look better, I feel better, and as a result, I act better,” she says.

Upstart company Booty Pop thinks it has the answer for women who want curves like Beyonce and JLo: padded underwear.

For centuries, women have wriggled into girdles and other slimmers to minimize their rear ends. Now, a fascination with the hind-quarters of celebrities like Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian is fueling a booming market for undergarments that amplify the derrière..

Booty Pop projects it will sell close to 1 million pairs of padded underwear this year.

Make this go away.

Here’s my thoughtful, serious analytical take on the matter. Transplants!

Why mess around with a fake ass that, should you actually undress in front of someone you hope to seduce, will suddenly be…not there? Just buy yourself a permanent butt. Take all that nasty fat from somewhere else on your body, or maybe someone else’s. No biggie.

I’ve considered donating my ass, on occasion, but the sweetie has forbidden it, bless him.

It would only be for scientific purposes, research, the advancement of knowledge. All that.

Meet Diego Robles, the Denver Post's youngest and award winning photographer

DENVER - FEBRUARY 27: A passerby walks in fron...
His new office...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

For anyone who loves great documentary photography — here’s its future — the four student winners, first place and three awards of excellence, from the White House News Photographers Association, whose annual gala dinner is in D.C. May 15.

The winner is Diego James Robles, just hired by the Denver Post, at 25, as a staff photographer. The awards of excellence went to three young men, two from Western Kentucky University and one from the Corcoran College of Art and Design. Their images are also powerful, moving, spectacular — see number 15 in Chris Jones’ photo-essay on a small child with cancer.

I met Diego this January when he was chosen to join The New York Times Student Institute just as he was starting to collect an astonishing pile of awards:

*White House News Photographers Association 2009 Student Photographer of the Year, March 2010
*Ohio News Photographers Association 2009 Student Photographer of the Year, March 2010
*Alexia Foundation Student Award of Excellence, March 2010
*Press Photographers Association of Greater Los Angeles 2009 Student Photographer of the Year, March 2010
*1st Place Hearst Competition II: News/Sports, February, 2010

That’s after winning:

*Gold, Sports Feature, College Photographer of the Year, Nov. 2009
*Award of Excellence, Portfolio, College Photographer of the Year, Nov. 2009
*1st Place, Week’s Work/Student Portfolio, Sports Shooter, Aug. 2009
*Pepsi Leadership Scholarship, Ohio University, May 2009
*Ohio News Photographers Association 2008 Student Photographer of the Year, March 2009
*The California Chicano News Media Association Scholarship, Aug. 2008
*Chips Quinn Scholar, Feb. 2008

A military veteran, Diego remains calm, low-key, quiet, soft-spoken. And driven.

Here’s my interview with him:

Tell us a little bit about your history

I am originally from a suburb of Los Angeles, Torrance. When I was in the fourth grade, we moved to Orange County. I attended high school, like Tiger Woods, in Anaheim’s Western High School. My parents are both retired lawyers. My stepfather, the man who raised me, is a retired machinist.

How did you become a photographer?

Nobody in my family is a journalist but I am the first of many. Well, I got into photography when I was twenty. I was deployed with the army in Kosovo. I was slightly injured in the mountains of Serbia and I was forced to go back to our forward operating base and recover for a short time. There, a really goofy, funny army friend of mine had an old fully manual SLR camera (a big camera with interchangeable lens). He let me borrow it for maybe 10 seconds and I was automatically hooked. I thought the prism and shutter mechanism were the coolest thing ever. I immediately bought an entry level SLR on eBay and started shooting everything…except people. I think a lot of people start like this actually. My parents didn’t know for a long time that I was into photography. I think they were just worried that my job was dangerous. In retrospect, I think I was always into making images. I liked to draw and paint throughout my school days; still do a little bit. When my family went on summer vacations, I was always the photographer but my parents didn’t encourage it since I was always taking wacky pictures, mis-loading film, and jamming the mechanics in some way.

When and why did you join the military? How did this shape how you think and work?

I joined the military after high school. A very influential high school teacher of mine was a former Marine and was wounded several times in Vietnam. He showed us one of his platoon photographs, before everybody but him was killed in action. That had an affect on me. I went to Kosovo and some other places in Europe. I was deployed for close to two years but served another four or so inactive or active in some form. I have the army to thank for many of the good qualities I have and maybe some of the bad habits too. I eventually switched from the infantry to public affairs, basically the journalism/propaganda arm of the military and I learned a lot. Those guys worked hard and sacrificed their bodies for the shot. I also learned how to write which comes in handy when I apply for grants and write proposals.

Which photographers’ work do you most admire and why?

I admire a lot of different photographers out there. I admire the intimacy and cleanness of Carolyn Cole’s conflict images for Los Angeles Times. Having worked on Native American reservations, I deeply admire the photography of Edward Curtis and his devotion to the craft. Others I greatly admire are Shaul Schwarz, John Moore and Vince Musi.

What do you want viewers to take from your work?

I want viewers to feel something when they look at my work. Anything will do. Photographs don’t always have to be intimate and meaningful. To draw a laugh or a tear is a great honor. So any kind of reaction or emotion response is okay with me. Hopefully, they’ll want to see more.

What do most enjoy about shooting?

Right now I am completely obsessed with portraiture. I love to plan, execute and edit environmental portraits. However, it’s not what I do best and I wish mine were more intimate like fellow Ohio University photographer, Peter Hoffman. However, I really enjoy quirky photo-stories about people with interesting jobs and complicated personal relationships.

What do you least enjoy shooting?

I am not a fan of shooting meetings or poorly lit high school basketball games. Also I loath shooting anything about ghosts, ghost hunters or anything involving the paranormal. It’s always the same photographs of somebody looking at a “energy detection” gadget and inebitably, when the photographs are published, somebody will find a ghost in the pictures.

Tell us about all these awards!

I have been pleasantly surprised by my recent success this year. I’d always won something here or there, even in the army but this year has been special. It feels funny because all the awards are for last year’s work as a senior and I know this year’s stuff, so far, is not as good. I am also very surprised about doing well in major competitions especially since there are photographers way more talented and experienced than me.

Tell us what you learned about shooting at college

I learned most of what I know as a photographer in Ohio University. I think it was a great combination of talented passionate instructors paired with the best talent in the nation. The atmosphere was highly competitive and inspiring. Although successful and talented people will always find a way to rise to the top, I don’t think I would have been as successful, not even close, if I had gone somewhere else.

What advice would you offer to other young shooters?

The best advice anybody gave me was decide what kind of photographer you want to be. This will determine what you need to do and what kind of life you will have. As you climb the ladder and everybody works hard, has talent and is creative, you realize the separating power of sacrifice.

Why does sacrifice matter when achieving excellence?

Sacrifice is something I learned in the army. You sacrifice yourself for the well-being of the unit and the success of the mission. I sacrificed much in Ohio. I sacrificed personal relationships with friends and girlfriends. I never went out to parties and bars but not because I didn’t like my peers but because I am so obsessed with the craft of photography.

The digital revolution has turned photography and photojournalism on its head. I am a product of it. If it wasn’t so easy to take hundreds and now thousands of photographs in one sitting, I don’t know if I would have gotten into it. My first SLR was a digital and I didn’t shoot any film until I got to college. I believe digital has made a lot of people think photography is easy. However, digital has flooded the market and internet with really bad photographs by the millions. The relative cheapness of digital, once you make the ridiculously expensive initial investment, has allowed people to get better and improve their photography. I’m all for it and thankful of its emergence but am slightly uncomfortable with overall drop in photographic quality.

Tell us about the Denver Post — how did you get such a great first job in a recession right out of school?

There are about 15 photographers on staff at The Denver Post. I am by far the youngest and greenest of them all. I don’t know how they found me. The director of the School of Visual Communication at Ohio University told me my name came up when my boss, Tim Rasmussen,  was looking to hire somebody. However, I am unaware if he knew of me beforehand. I think I had a total of three phone interviews. The last one was a telephone conference with most of the staff. I didn’t know what to expect so I was just myself and tried to be as honest as I could. I detailed both my strength and weakness. I told them who I am as a photographer and what I am all about.

Anything you want to add?

The photographic life is worth living but the photography itself has to be the reward and ultimate endgame.

Feeling Stressed? Johnson & Johnson Offers $39.99/Month On-Line Relaxation

Angry kitty
Image by Tambako the Jaguar via Flickr

How stressed are you feeling today? Would going on-line — as women do 27 hours a week doing non e-email reading — help you chill out?

A new program, with related products, begins this month at, $99.95 a month for the first month and $39.95 a month thereafter, starting with a stress analysis test. Reports today’s New York Times:

While some Upliv tips, like relaxing by taking a hot shower or having a cup of herbal tea, are predictable, the company says the overall approach is effective. In an internal study in which 540 women aged 25 to 45 who reported “moderate to high stress levels” were put either on the Upliv program or in a control group, women in the program reported marked improvements, including increased “clear-headedness” and “sleep satisfaction.”

A 30-minute infomercial for the product will run this month in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas and Atlanta.

“Stress is usually one of the biggest causers for headaches and before I started this program I was averaging sometimes about 15 a month,” one participant, Jenny Ford, a teacher and mother of three, says in the infomercial. She said that her headaches had virtually disappeared as a result of the program, and that it had “really improved my marriage, because I’m happier, I have more energy, and I’m not such a drag.”

Another participant, Caroline Jalango, 37, single and a sales associate, tells the interviewer in the infomercial that the program helped her to be “responsible for my well-being — it’s a very powerful tool to me.”

In a telephone interview, Ms. Jalango, who lives in the Riverdale section of the Bronx and participated in a three-month trial in the fall, said that even though it had been a few months since she had had access to the Upliv Web site, “it has become like a lifestyle for me,” and helped her to be less stressful about her job, her family relationships and “being single while my biological clock is ticking.”

For $39.99 a month, I’ll stick to my usual stress-relievers: lots of hot tea, fresh flowers, long walks outdoors, listening to music, talking to friends.

The products offered, with names like Field of Happiness, Ocean of Clarity and Canopy of Tranquility, all sound a little goofy to me. If one could relieve stress by spritzing, send me 200 cases and let me aim it at…most of New York City.

Women, many of whom are socialized to make everyone happy all the time, often need explicit permission to take good care of themselves. Anything that helps them name, and pay consistent self-nurturing attention to, their own needs — not just the endless demands of their partner/husband/kids/job/aging parents/PTA — is a good idea.

It's J-Day: Former LA Times' Bill Lobdell and Newsweek's Michael Hastings On The Story That Broke Their Hearts

This late 1960s photograph shows a seated, lis...
Image via Wikipedia

Any journalist working on emotionally harrowing stories — war, corruption, violence, death, poverty — faces a specific and deeply personal challenge. In order to witness this material, which can be terrifying, confusing and anxiety-provoking to us as well as those we cover, we have to be present, both physically and emotionally. As a result, many of us later suffer PTSD or secondary trauma, the price of admission to these searing stories, as James Rainey wrote recently in The Los Angeles Times. That can bring anxiety, depression, nightmares or insomnia.

A new feature film, The Bang-Bang Club, recently finished shooting in South Africa. The name was given to a group of  young news photographers that included one who still shoots for The New York Times, Joao Silva, and South African photographer Kevin Carter. Carter is best-known, to some of us, as the photographer who captured an image of a tiny, emaciated Sudanese child lying on the ground, a vulture waiting mere feet away. The image won the 1994 Pultizer Prize. Two months later, at 33, Carter committed suicide.

I experienced secondary trauma while writing my own book, during which I spent two years interviewing, and writing about, women and girls. some of whom had experienced gun-related violence, including a woman shot point-blank in her California driveway while her husband was shot and killed beside her during a robbery, women who’d shot and killed, women who’d been shot themselves, women whose husbands and sons had committed suicide. Sometimes this was just exhausting and overwhelming.

The Dart Center is a terrific resource for helping journalists deal with this issue; last week’s J-Day featured medical author Maryn McKenna, whose new book about MRSA required much wearying, important reporting. She’ll be one of their fellows this fall at Columbia University, a sort of post-traumatic de-briefing.

I asked two brave, respected journalists whose work I admire to talk about this difficult issue. I met Bill Lobdell when we both participated in a religion writing fellowship at The Poynter Institute. I was stunned by the story he told us then, which later became his book, and never forgot it. I did not know Michael Hastings before coming to T/S but his raw, passionate candor here is also generous and extraordinary.

William Lobdell, former religion writer for The Los Angeles Times, author of “Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America—and Found Unexpected Peace.”

Michael Hastings, fellow T/S contributor, former Newsweek Baghdad correspondent, whose 2008 book, “I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story,” is about his fiancee’s murder.

Tell us a little about how and why you chose journalism.

Michael: I’ll start with a cliché—from about the age of 12 I knew I wanted to write. (Or join the Marines, win a congressional medal of honor, and run for president.) As a teenager, I discovered guys like Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe, and had a serious Beat literature phase. I brilliantly deduced that to be a great writer, you had to ingest great amounts of illegal substances. That didn’t work out so well. I wrote a column at my school paper, called “Fear and Loathing at LCC.” (Lower Canada College, the name of the high school I attended in Montreal.) Then I moved to Burlington, Vermont, where I went to a Catholic school. I was promptly banned from writing for the school newspaper there. The principal was a rather large man named Brother Roger. He didn’t take kindly to an essay where I compared him, perhaps unfavorably, to Jabba the Hutt.

Anyway, after bouncing around at a few colleges, I ended up at New York University. During my last semester, I got an unpaid internship at Newsweek International. I probably was the only one who applied, as the work at first was primarily on Friday and Saturday nights. But I’d been chastened enough by life at that point to realize that I’d managed to get my foot in the door, so to speak, and I wasn’t going take it out. So I more or less lived at the Newsweek offices, and the internship turned to a full time position. I guess I was 22 at the time. I loved it, and I learned how to write an edit there…. I never refused an assignment or anything an editor asked me to do, which helped my cause.. But after about three years, I started asking to be sent to Iraq. By that time, America was already suffering from its first bout of Iraq fatigue—circa 2005. It wasn’t a hot story. Not many people were banging down the door to go. So my bosses finally sent me in August 2005. Six months or so later, the civil war broke out, and all of sudden, Iraq was a really big story again.. I was named the magazine’s Baghdad correspondent a few months after that. That meant I was now going to move to Baghdad permanently

William: I went to Stanford and the University of California, Irvine and majored in political science. As my senior year approached, I still didn’t have a clue what I’d do for a living upon graduation. A mentor gave me some obvious advice that had eluded me: find what you love and get a job in that field. Well, I loved reading newspapers and magazines. I was a news junkie. I thought, maybe I could be a reporter. I went to the college newspaper and the minute I walked into that newsroom, I was hooked.

My career path began traditionally—an internship at the Los Angeles Times and then a job at a small daily in Fullerton. But then it took a turn. I became editor and later president of a local magazine chain. After that seven-year detour, I returned to daily journalism as editor of the Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot. I eventually oversaw the LA Times’ community news division before becoming a Times reporter. I spent eight years on the religion beat and two more years as a city editor. I left the paper last year and am running two Internet-based businesses: and I also wrote a critically acclaimed memoir of my experiences on the religion beat called “Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America—and Found Unexpected Peace.”

A little background on this story and how you came to cover it: Continue reading “It's J-Day: Former LA Times' Bill Lobdell and Newsweek's Michael Hastings On The Story That Broke Their Hearts”