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Doors Close; Doors Open and That’s a Good Thing

Meg Upton

   I’ve been back in Plumas County for a week now. A little bit in Greenville, a little bit in Quincy—which is pretty much how my life has always been in the 20 years I’ve lived here. Greenville, where I raised my kids and my mothers lived; Quincy, where I taught for 13 years at Feather River College and then made the leap back over to journalism with Feather Publishing.

    I’ve gone to great dinners and lunches with good friends this week (I think I’ve tried every dish on Wildflower Café’s menu). I got to water aerobics with the Taylorsville ladies and Ramona Eaglesmith making us hustle. I’ve made an effort to clean out my office at Feather Publishing, and am helping my daughter pack up her life to begin her junior year at Whittier College next month and striking out on her own in southern California; her brother having made the move two years ago last week. My mother moved to Missouri after the fire; my other mother died in 2020. From now on, Plumas will be where we vacation and visit our friends—it will no longer be home base, our family is all gone from here now.

   I’m thinking a good deal about beginnings and ends and trying to know when it’s time to move on and when to strike out on a new adventure. My time in Plumas County has been all about trying new things and trying to figure out when to move on and when to hold fast.

   My journey to Plumas News and Indian Valley Record was, now that I look back on it, a pretty natural transition. I’d meant to write 90% of the time and teach 10% of the time and some point after I received my 10-year service pin from Derek Lerch at FRC, I realized that I was teaching 95% of the time and writing very little. I’d gotten comfortable in that space. I was too weird to ever be a tenured professor (as a first generation college graduate with two kids, I couldn’t afford to go get a PhD to make myself more marketable either). Couple that with realizing staying up till 2 a.m. to write comments on rough drafts that 90% of students weren’t going to read anyhow was no way to spend one’s life.

    I loved teaching—still love teaching, but adjuncting does a number on your self-esteem. I needed change.

   In 2015 I made radical changes in my life. I applied for a job with Feather Publishing to ease back into journalism. I’d worked for Datebook in the SF Chronicle and Calendar at the LA Times. I figured a weekly was my speed.

   I fell back in love with journalism almost immediately—especially small town journalism. I loved the freedom to be able to highlight little known stories and showcase cool things happening in our communities. I learned so much about subjects I knew little about at first, which pushed me into small town advocacy. I found myself defending little mountain towns whenever I was in other parts of California. When Debra Moore came back to the paper I was elated. Debra and I clicked and I’ve never felt so appreciated in any job I’ve ever held like I felt here with both Cobey Brown and Debra. I so respect and appreciate them.

   As with any job in Plumas County, nothing quite pays enough and they were supportive of all my extra curricular endeavors like teaching in the prisons in Susanville and subbing K-12 here in Plumas County and working with Plumas Arts on various projects and my radio show with KQNY.

   Another change I made was to launch Pachuca Productions with Tina Terrazas and we had five solid years of shows we put on in both Greenville and Quincy. Covid pushed back on us and afterwards we still put a few more events on. Last night Tina and I sat on a bench in downtown after a great meal at Wildflower and talked about what we both already knew—that Pachuca in Plumas County has come to an end. We’ll finish our documentary and our play festival in April 2024, but we won’t be putting on any more shows than that, (we lost the bulk of our sound and lighting equipment in the fire).

   Working at Feather Publishing, along with being office mates with Jane Braxton Little, has given me the confidence to venture into other things. I freelance more now. I had the audacity to send my short story collection, Graft into the world and it was published in October 2022 by Tolsun Books. My poetry collection, the daughterland, just came out in June on El Martillo Press and already schools are putting it in their curriculum as far away as Chicago! I’m the editor on a forthcoming anthology about living with fire. I’ve got a publisher waiting for a second book of poetry and am working on a novel. Dreams are coming true—all due to the confidence I built here working for Feather Publishing.

   When the print paper folded in 2020, I sighed, knowing that it was of course, inevitable, given the nature of small town newspapers in the United States these days. Very few independents were left but I was also excited that we were going to attempt a daily website.

   I missed getting all those photos in the paper of littles at children’s events but I loved as a resident having daily news sources for road closures and emergencies. If I was headed down the canyon and I saw something I could send it to Debra and by the time I got to my destination the news was already up.

   But it was exhausting and I definitely couldn’t keep up at that pace. The Dixie Fire all at once made us feel like big city reporters and overwhelmed with our barebones staff. I knew it couldn’t last forever. I was happy to control some of the misinformed narrative set by state and national news outlets about our little towns and the nature of life here. If nothing else, that’s what I’m proudest of—being able to defend our fire stricken towns to the country and state at large that didn’t know us and didn’t understand. Through my work on the Plumas News website I represented and discussed Plumas County internationally in the UK Guardian and the BBC, NPR, North State Public Radio, KQED, the San Francisco Chronicle, Slate and other publications. The editorial staffs of all those places were reading Plumas News and reaching out to me for comment. Through the website, vital information was making it out across the world.

   And now it is coming to an end.

   It’s exciting to me though to hear of residents pulling together to start their own websites—it will be a matter of time to see which one pulls through as the voice of Plumas County—unbiased and balanced across all of our communities.

   One of my favorite things in working for Plumas News is how we’d get fan and hate mail from residents on a story. One email would say our conservative bias was showing; the other would say our liberal bias was showing—for the same exact article. It’s my hope that moving forward that we still hear the stories from Portola and Sierra Valley, Indian Valley and Chester and of course Quincy and beyond.

   But I’m excited for High Country Life magazine and to be working for Debra and Cobey for that publication on a more regular basis. I so enjoy researching historical pieces and I’ll be doing more of that going forward. So I’m still here even though I’m not.

   I leave the county again two days from now—two days before Plumas News goes silent.

   I’m happy for this new venture with High Country Life. I’ve started a substack account where I’ll be posting stories related to fire recovery, non-recovery, and climate change (margaretelysiagarcia).  My website is www.margaretelysiagarcia.com I’ll also be working for OC Department of Education, I’ll be freelancing, and completing manuscripts to send out into the world hoping for an agent and publisher. I’ve got a book tour for the daughterland to complete. I’m reaching that long ago goal of writing 90% of the time; teaching 10%. I’m awaiting my first grandchild (celebrating birth after so much death) and celebrating my family being all in one part of the state again as they get their careers and their college life to the next steps. Doors are closing; new ones are opening—and that is always exciting.


12 thoughts on “Doors Close; Doors Open and That’s a Good Thing

  • Thank you for all you have contibuted to making our commumity better informed and enlightened.
    You are very appreciated!

  • Thank you for all the great coverage. May your journey be rewarding

  • We wish you well. How long is your good bye? It’s interesting how you have left but still report and cling to writing about leaving. It seems strange. Just move on. It is time. Those that support the return of Indian Valley as hard as it’s been need that voice, that place, and that hope.

    • Wow. What an ugly thing to say.

  • You are so fly. Keep soaring. We need your voice. Can’t wait to read The Daughterland.

  • @Ellen Heiman. So rude. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

  • We’re grateful for the talent and sweat equity you’ve given our little mountain home over all these years Margaret!
    From the plays, documentaries and workshops to the tamales and wayward writers retreats- you brought so much passion and life to everything you did.
    I’ll miss you! But I’m excited to stay tuned for your next chapter!

  • I got to where I really anticipated your writing during the Dixie fire. I don’t live in the area, but we vacation there often, and I felt connected to your beloved community through your writing, so thank you for that. I wish you and your family all the best.

  • Best wishes on all your new and ongoing adventures! It’s wonderful to know that writing flourishes, if not so much in the battered mainstream, but in the alcoves and estuaries, in small presses and small mountain towns. You can leave our communities, but our communities will never leave you!
    Splendid journeys, Meg

  • Cheers and tears.
    As a former resident of the area (but now in Spanish Springs) I was able to keep in touch through your writings and others as well.
    Best of luck, and you’re living your dream. How else should someone live? Good on ya!

  • I remember when you first started writing for the paper, I remember your 90/10 comments. I remember 3 and 6 months into it … and here you are. It has been interesting to watch as some of your pieces really riled folks up, sparks flying everywhere! I loved Pachuca Productions and glad I was able to participate a few times, a real gas. You definitely put a new color in the Plumas County coloring box, and in the end, I think that’s about as good as it gets. Congrats on your palette!

  • Thank you for all you have done for Plumas County!

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