A Day in the Life of Heather Boerner

Heather Boerner is a freelance health and science journalist based in San Francisco, California. Her work has appeared in Al Jazeera America, The San Francisco Chronicle, National Nurse Magazine and Better Homes and Gardens. Follow her on Twitter @HeatherBoerner.

Heather Boerner

What I’m working on:

I’m obsessed with this longform project I’m completing on HIV and fertility, called “HIV and Baby Makes Three.” The topic is fascinating: It’s now possible under specific circumstances for some couples in which one person has HIV to have unprotected sex, have a baby and not pass on the virus. I’ve been following this story for four or five years and have followed two couples for the last two years in their process to conceive this way. The story revolves around the science behind treatment as prevention, as well as the power of some HIV drugs to lower the chance of an HIV-negative partner contracting HIV from sex with their HIV-positive partner. The story, to me, has everything in it. It’s got the science, it’s got public policy—the CDC still recommends against doctors assisting HIV-discordant couples in conception—and, most important, it’s got people. The two couples are so in love and have such a longing for children, and they can’t afford IVF or other expensive procedures that are safer than unprotected sex. It’s a longing that I think a lot of people can relate to, and it transcends stigma around HIV. I love this story.

I’ve also just finished up a crowdfunding campaign to self-publish the story as a Kindle Single, so the marketing of it has taken up pretty much all of my spare time. Getting to hire great editors and fact-checkers and create my own community of excellent journalists around this project has been a delight, though. I’m really proud of myself for doing something that was inconceivable to me a few years ago.

Where I work:

I work in my home office in San Francisco’s Russian Hill neighborhood. I can hear the cable cars chiming from my office and when I need a break, I can walk down and look at Golden Gate Bridge. It’s quite energizing. My office setup itself is a cheap old Ikea table strewn with file folders, papers with highlighted quotes on them, a calculator, my lubricating eye drops, an illustration of the red ninja from Lego’s Ninjago (a gift for my nephew), some thank-you cards, a mug of Coco Blanc tea, some thank-you cards for people who’ve contributed to the Indiegogo campaign, and, of course, my computer. Behind the computer is my bulletin board with inspiration, reminders and a map of time zones so I don’t schedule interviews for the wrong time. To the right is my bookshelf with reference books and files as well as stuff that really needs to filed or scanned and shredded.

Daily routine:

I start my day in silent reflection. I meditate for 10–20 minutes every morning, and then do some free writing to clear my head. Then it’s breakfast (usually oatmeal and eggs), and a check of Facebook, Twitter and email. Lately, with the Indiegogo [crowdfunding] campaign, I’ll spend 30 minutes to an hour promoting the project, and then start on the day’s work. Today I have a call with a client, and then I’ll work on the two remaining stories I need to finish up for the week. If I’m lucky or have the time, I will take a walk and a nap at some point, and I usually finish up work by 5 or 6, though lately it’s run significantly later with all the stories I’m juggling.At some point during the day, I will clear email and take time to read the articles I’ve pulled up on health policy and healthcare reform, as well as any articles that strike my fancy from Facebook and Twitter.

Most productive part of my day:

I’m best between 9:00 a.m. and noon—the most focused and alert. It’s diminishing returns after about 3. Sometimes, if I have time, I take that time to nap.

Most essential ritual or habit:

Probably meditation bookending chunks of time with  a colleague I call my bookending buddy—my friend Anne Ford, with whom I went to high school and who is a fantastic freelance journalist. She writes the Chicagoans column for the Chicago Reader and works with Story Corps. She’s such an inspiration to me, but most of our emails are dull procedurals: “I’m going to clear email for 30 minutes and come back.” Or, “I’m going to stretch and make more tea and come back and dive back in to this story.” Or, “I’m going to make words now. Back when I have 500.” We check in with each other regularly throughout the day, sharing our plans for the day and funny stories about people we’ve interviewed or editors we’ve contacted. Recently, when I found out I didn’t get a reporting fellowship I had applied for, she picked up the phone and called. I do the same for her when she’s having a hard day. She’s my virtual coworker, and I’m not sure I could do this job without her.

Mobile device:

iPhone 4, which a friend gave me after my MyTouch 4G died on me unceremoniously a month and a half ago. It’s my first iPhone and I have to say—it’s not that different from an Android to me.

Computer:

A precious, eight-year-old MacBook.

Essential software/apps/productivity tools:

OfficeTime, which tracks how much time I’m spending on each project and helps me invoice clients; You Need A Budget, which helps with managing cashflow; Hootsuite for making social media less overwhelming.

Favorite time waster/procrastination habit:

Facebook, by far, but I can also lose hours snickering at Jezebel or judging the fashion of celebrities on Go Fug Yourself.

My reading habits:

I’m sad to say that I get the Sunday New York Times but I don’t tend to read it. All my reading seems to have migrated online. I’m loving Matter right now. I also end up finding great longform pieces via Facebook. I read a great piece in Slate that expanded on an earlier piece on Margaret Mary Vojtko, the adjunct professor who died after her contract wasn’t renewed by Duquesne University. It was such a good mystery and worth sticking with through the length. My friend Liza Boyd (E.B. Boyd) wrote a compelling piece for Fast Company on the Afghan war after she was embedded with the Marines there, and I read that story after she posted it to Facebook. And someone posted a story from Business Insider that steps back through the whys and hows that led Patch and AOL CEO Tim Armstrong to fire someone publicly during a meeting with Patch employees. I totally got sucked in.

I pull these stories up as they show up on my news feed and then I tend to read them at night in bed before going to sleep. Or on a lazy Sunday. I spent a whole glorious weekend reading the New Yorker article that’s the basis for Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear. It was like a ghost story that kept getting creepier and creepier the deeper you went into it.

I don’t tend to read too many magazines, though I pick up the New Yorker often and have a subscription to Mother Jones and a few fashion magazines. I need to get a tablet so I can read all of that online.

I also am a dedicated patron of the San Francisco Public Library. Right now, I have four books out that are probably a good representation of stuff I like: Mo ‘Meta Blues by Questlove, The Fault In Our Stars by John Green, the audiobook of Dad is Fat by comedian Jim Gaffigan, and the latest in a series of cheesy vampire books by J.R. Ward.

Sleep schedule:

I am one of those people who needs a good eight to 10 hours of sleep a night to function. So I start to wind down around 9 or 9:30, with a bunch of stretching and rolling around on a foam roller (usually while watching The Daily Show or Colbert). Then I put myself to bed at 10. That’s supposed to mean all screens off and relaxing in bed with one of my library books. But I don’t always turn off the computer. Like I said, sometimes I’m reading on it. My goal is to be asleep by 11:00 p.m. and up by 7:00 a.m. to start the routine all over again.

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