Woman of the week: Liana Aghajanian

Journalist Liana Aghajanian tell the stories of people trying to make a living and find joy in some of the world's forgotten places.

Liana has written about women trying to protect their children from extreme pollution in Mongolia, Muslim undertakers in East London, and the increasing thousands of unclaimed Angelenos buried by the city every year. In her own words, her interests lie in "subcultures, marginalized and under-reported communities and issues, immigration, displacement, identity, the Caucasus and Middle East and how ordinary people are affected by the world, its leaders and their policies." I never know what or who Liana will be highlighting with her work, but I can always expect for it to be obscure and fascinating. I highly encourage you explore her work here. It is her fearlessness and her passion for telling stories of individuals who are strong despite extreme odds that makes her our Woman of the Week.

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Your name: Liana Aghajanian

Your Occupation: Freelance Journalist

What you really do:

I get to use journalism as an excuse to meet new people and learn about the world in really intimate and immersive ways, but in between that I chase down editors about payment, send emails to said editors that manage to disappear into the black hole of the internet, try to deal with rejections, spend weeks trailing the people I’m writing about which is sometimes a stressful experience, and cringe when I hear my voice when I’m transcribing interviews. In the end, I also agonize how I never feel like I’m doing enough.

What is your morning routine?

My mornings usually vary from each other in any given week, so I haven’t been able to ever develop a solid routine. Some days I’m running to meet sources at ungodly hours, other days I get to sleep in. What stays constant most of the time is a big mug of Earl Grey tea, turning into NPR and a quick read of all of my social media feeds, which often end up making me late if I have to be somewhere because a story always end up sucking me in without fail.

What is your biggest dream?

To work as a writer of long form nonfiction for respected magazines, while also gaining a sense of financial stability (the impossible dream).

What is the next goal you are actively trying to accomplish? Researching and writing my first book.

Name one thing, big or small, you have done recently that you are proud of:

After several years of having no real permanency in my life as I traveled between the U.S. and abroad on reporting trips, I moved to Detroit for a writing residency and into a house which I get to keep after two years (crazy, I know). Owning a house is hard work and the personal and professional challenges that have come with it have pushed me in directions I didn’t know I was capable of. There have been breakdowns, but I’ve managed. So I guess what I’m most proud of is that I’m learning how to deal with becoming an adult. What do you struggle with most at work?

Figuring out how to focus. My interest vary so widely, that honing in on one issue or topic to write about is difficult. Curiosity is a wonderful thing, especially for a journalist, but sometimes it leads to an erratic-ness that start to impact my concentration. One minute I’m writing an outline for a piece about maternal mortality, the next minute I want to go trail shamans in Mongolia.

What do you struggle with most in your personal life?

Trying to find time for myself. Being freelance means that work bleeds into other areas of my life, so taking that time to de-stress so that my work can be better is still a big challenge for me.

How do you manage stress?

I’m still trying to figure that one out. Food helps. I am a longtime lover of diners from a bygone era that have managed to retain business in 2016, even if their decor is horrible and the food is at best mediocre. Snuggling into a leather green booth at an unhip diner and having a cup of coffee with the people I love while we dissect life is my therapy. Sometimes, I’ll visit a cemetery, which is a great place for reflection and solitude.

How do you save money? What is your biggest expense?

I’m not a big shopper - I can look and admire but not feel an urge to buy, which always saves money. This method usually fails when I’m in Anthropologie, however. Currently my biggest expenses are house-related, boring but necessary things like property tax and insurance.

Who do you look up to?

I am a big fan of writer Michael Paterniti, whose stories I always get lost in. I think the goal of any writer is to keep the reader reading and Paterniti’s work does that for me in a way that is really inspiring. I always draw strength from many of the people I meet through my own reporting, people who live unconventionally or have incredible strength, many of which turn out to be women. Two stories I did in the last year revolved around mothers dealing with incredibly difficult social and economic circumstances who despite these issues, were attempting to make the best of their lives. I always look up to people who can handle a lot at once, and they showed incredible endurance.

What is your theme song? I was lost in the 90s this week because of an assignment, so it has to be Spice Girls, who never disappoint me. I miss them at least once a week.

What is your favorite beauty item? Castor oil. Its uses are many (hair, eyebrows, skin) and it delivers in ways than a shiny packaged product from Sephora cannot.

What is your guilty pleasure and how often do you indulge it? The Real Housewives of New Jersey. I watch it every week when it airs on Sunday. If I have a deadline, it ends up being a perfect way to start my Monday morning. I need unnecessary drama from a group of Italian-American women from New Jersey to unwind and not think about my life for a while. It’s easy to dismiss it as a reality show, but as someone who comes from an immigrant family and wasn’t born in the U.S., it is a fascinating study in identity and culture.

Who would you nominate to be woman of the week and why?Ruxandra Guidi, a friend, colleague and a talented journalist who has reported from the U.S., South and Central America and Haiti, among other places for national and international publications about the environment, human rights and other social issues. She’s currently working on a year-long series called “Going Gray in LA,” and exploring the many facets of growing old in Los Angeles.

Her ability to balance motherhood while pursuing the work she believes in is fills me with a lot of hope, and is a true testament to the work/life balance we are all trying to pursue in different ways. She’s part of a group of women journalists who I am glad to call part of my tribe.

A gif that you feel best describes how you've been feeling lately:

What are you most grateful for: Family and friends who listen even if they don’t want to, endure my complaints about problems in journalism, read the first draft of my stories and offer constructive advice that makes me a better writer.​ ------

Liana Aghajanian is a journalist whose work explores the issues, people and places that remain hidden on the fringes of society. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, Newsweek, Foreign Policy, Los Angeles Magazine, BBC News Magazine and Al Jazeera America. I’ve reported from Kenya, Germany, Mongolia and extensively in Armenia. Her reporting has received support from a number of fellowships, including the International Reporting Project at Johns Hopkins University. In 2015, she was awarded the second Write A House permanent writing residency and currently writes and lives in Detroit.

Want to nominate a woman who inspires you? Email us.

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