Journalists knock on a lot of doors of absolute strangers. My first time came as a reporter for my high school newspaper, and I have spent decades since that day chasing the thrill.
It was 1994, and my friend Asra and I were standing on the front steps of a house in our working-class town about 30 miles west of Chicago.
Our far-flung suburb was never in the news for good reason, but around that time, the Smashing Pumpkins had exploded into the mainstream. Front wailer Billy Corgan was one of us — graduating from our high school exactly 10 years ahead of me.
Even if Corgan didn't make a fuss about his roots, our community claimed him in a way that I know Minnesotans can fully appreciate.
Asra and I set out to interview his former teachers, friends and bandmates for a special four-page exposé on Corgan's high school years. It was a little bit gumshoe, a little bit Teen Beat. And that is how we came to ringing doorbells and cold-calling strangers, all in search of a story. I remember thinking: This is fun. And: I could do this for the rest of my life.
For many years I believed I could.
I built a career in newspapers and, most recently, in public media, where I was lucky enough to report and shape some of the most important stories of the day in Minnesota. The idea of slowing down never dawned on me.
When you work in daily news, you cover the night meetings of city government and school boards. You take the call, no matter the time of day, when a source has mustered the gumption to dial your number. And when truth, democracy and human decency are at stake, you marshal everything you have to tell stories that can change the tide.
But then came kids. (Mine.) And kids' birthday parties. And something as mundane as family dinners. As a journalist and mom of two young children, I started to feel the pressure of the 24/7 news cycle, once a thrilling beast I dared to dance with, now a barrel of adrenaline monkeys conspiring to Hulk-smash any semblance of a routine.
When the coronavirus hit last year, shuttering workplaces, schools and child care, the walls I tried to prop up to separate work from life came toppling down.
True, I was better off than many. I could work from home and share household duties with my husband. But I became the cliché of modern parenting during a pandemic: Putting a brave face on Zoom with my colleagues while the first-grader was crying about distance learning and the 3-year-old was crying for someone to wipe his butt.
It wasn't sustainable. And yet, as aspects of the lockdown lifted, working from home opened my eyes to a more forgiving world that had been once unimaginable.
For one, I could ditch my crosstown commute and trade driving time with walking my boys to their bus stop and preschool. This daily ritual allowed me to slow down and take stock of these two rapidly growing little humans. It took a pandemic to get me to realize what I wanted from life. It turns out, it's more of life.
I left my job in daily radio news not so much because of a clinical definition of burnout but of a desire to dream a little bigger. As a features columnist for the Star Tribune, I can continue to tell stories and have impact, focusing on underreported events related to gender and parenting and relationships, while trying to regain some personal boundaries for myself. And I think some of us mere mortal women are taking cues from elite athletes like Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka and Allyson Felix, who are putting their mental health first and discovering that they are worthy as they are.
My promise to you is to go beyond the headlines and not just report the facts, but to find meaning and connection and heart. To help us make sense of the time and place in which we live. To introduce you to Minnesotans we ought to know, who reflect the growing diversity of our state.
Jumping back to newspapers feels like coming home. My Taiwanese-born mother wrote novellas in Chinese-language newspapers that were sold in Chinatowns and Asian groceries and delivered to mailboxes of families like mine across the United States.
But before my mother was a writer, a mom, a computer programmer, and finally a retiree who shops at Costco, she cleaned hotel rooms on Long Island. Scrubbing toilets and making beds with hospital corners was one of her first jobs after moving to the United States. She tells me we come from strong stock, even though I know I'm not as strong as her. I doubt she thought much of work-life balance while rearing a family several thousand miles from the island that reared her.
It was her immigrant's gamble that allowed me to pursue something as exhilarating as introducing myself to perfect strangers, and to dare to dream that I could do this for a living.
This is Laura Yuen's first column for the Star Tribune. She covers family, relationships, gender and more. Have a story idea? Drop her a line at email@example.com or call 612-673-4006.