2017 in Review: Fast Forward

Favorite stories at the bottom.

It was wild. I quit The Auburn Journal in March, with a few outlets I could write for and a high school dream: To travel and write.

After burning out, I decided: If I learned to freelance, I could approach that old dream.

The AJ.

But freelance isn’t easy. I had to start at square one: Myself.

After always working for bosses, I now had to rely far more on my self to determine what’s a good story, who to talk to and when. I had to find a routine that works. Irregular pay forced me to deal with these questions fast, so I experimented for months: I started waking up early, riding my bike to “work” (Old Soul at the Weatherstone, the best coffeeshop in Sac), becoming a zealot with my planner and using Hacker Lab, a coworking space that was the third I tried. There, I the found community I was missing—and didn’t know I needed.

Finally, I was “Single, unemployed and suddenly myself”, and loved it.

Biking helped my mental health immensely, lifting my spirits by Sac’s beauty. There’s something about pushing that helps. I am also dedicated to my routine: The morning hours are mine, alone. And I gave my self “rewards” with shows after work finding the balance I crave.

So, when I was offered a “good” job with more regular pay, and was asked if I would do full-time, I could only answer: “No.”

Speeding off after, I played loud music yelling Brujas’s repeating chorus: “Don’t you fuck with my energy”. The next morning, I couldn’t stop writing to Rage’s “Killing in the Name”, flying the bird and belting from my backyard, “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!”

I fell back in love with writing, and myself doing it. I read books on the craft and became inspired. So, I want to say thank you to my editors who helped me become a better writer and my friends who encouraged me.

There’s still a big mountain left. But finally, I feel like I’m glad to be the one climbing it. Good luck to all of you on your journey. May you always put yourself first, as my 99-year old Grandma Frances always says.

In other news, this was the year I fell in love with alt-weeklies. My mom bought a house in Santa Cruz, living her truth after dad died years ago. And I met a lot of great people from the Sac journo community to dedicated housing advocates and a mom giving a book to every Santa Cruz kid on their birthday. There are countless others.

Damn it, I’m hopeful.

If you’d care to follow my work, I’m starting a newsletter on the future of media, changing Sacramento and the stories I write and ones I wish I did:

With all of that said, here are my favorite stories of the year:

Top stories of 2017

Fountain of Truth: Sacramento leaves drinking water scarce as homeless population grows larger and summer gets hotter

My favorite started as a weather story. A homeless colleague said how bad drinking fountains were. Public records proved it. While the city seemed to ignore it (follow-up coming), a local started giving water, for free.

Pay to stay: Tenants of south Sacramento apartment complex face rising rents, complain of roach and mold issues

This piece dove into the city’s incompetent Rental Housing Inspection Program and one complex that shouldn’t have needed housing advocates, a council member visit, tenants at city council and local media to improve (following-up, too).

Swept under the rug: After forming California’s carpet recycling program, industry prevents it from spreading nationwide

Carpet. There’s a lot to it. It’s made from oil and will take centuries to degrade. This story met the woman leading the improvements to California’s recycling program, whose industry leaders tried to stifle regulations like it across the country, were called out by a state agency and agreed to a new bill after this ran.

Six Educational Nonprofits Partner with Santa Cruz Gives

Coco was the “ the kid rescuing worms in the rain.” Coco was tragically killed in 2015. Her parents are continuing her legacy via a nonprofit aiming to give a book to every kid in Santa Cruz county on their birthday. This story, and others in this annual fundraiser piece, deeply touched me.

Gold diggers: Quarry venture with ‘passive’ ties to billionaire Democratic donor sparks fight with foothill ranchers

This one took me home to the tiny town of Ione, 36 miles from the capitol at the bottom of the foothills. Area developers want to build a 113-acre gravel/asphalt plant and mine which would pollute the town’s residents (and incarcerated individuals nearby) to double the healthy level. One of the investors: Gubernatorial hopeful and beloved climate “activist” Tom Steyer.

Grouchy Holiday Music

My first-ever music piece, I loved catching up with The Grouch about hip hop, his relationship with Del the Funky Homosapien and what coming home for the holidays really means. I thought stories on politics, poverty and climate change were hard. Little did I know how much work it is to understand musicians’ style and the context in which they create.

Greenhouse fixation: Can infill development halt California’s affordable housing crisis and climate change?

My first story in Sac, on people bringing housing advocacy and land use policy to stop climate change and poverty. It was also my first on the city’s housing crisis and how residents and advocates are working to fix it.

15 Minutes: L.A. Dubay, recreational therapist

A former homeless veteran, Lisa Anne Dubay enrolled in Sac State. With the help of fellow vets, teachers and her own strong will, transformed her life in entirely new directions.

Another must-read 15 minutes was Michael Lynch, co-founder of Improve Your Tomorrow, a South Sac peer-mentoring non-profit with a 100% success rate.

My other favorites were: The city finally finishing approval of a program to end gun violence through peer-mentor support by ex-gang members; a Q&A with the captain of an old galley ship; Cal Expo’s shelter for two fire victims, but not homeless; a dive into the world of ads showing the power of public pressure; California’s hypocrisy buying polluter fuels; the Sacramentan who started a music festival at 20; Sac’s hunt for electric vehicle industry money; the country’s first LGBT staff caucus; the state’s first (if not the country’s) Ethnic Studies high school textbook; and repeals of regulations forever.

If 2017 taught me anything, it’s that calling out bullshit can change things. May 2018 be full of the strength to do so, again and again.

Thanks for reading. You can also connect with me on Twitter: @mikewmott