Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Crisis of Literary Identity

Sometimes I wonder if I'm cut out for journalism. Other times, I'm quite positive that I'm not. I am a bad interviewer. I don't like to ask questions that make people uncomfortable. I don't like to push. When I finally coax a flow of ideas from the source, I interrupt with a question that could've waited. I listen to tapes of my interviews and I cringe at every "um" and "uh."

I am finishing up an article for a regional parenting magazine about something that turned out to be a very sensitive topic. Grandparents raising grandchildren. Really, it doesn't have to be sensitive--I could write it as 1000 words of fluff and not offend anyone. I could even uplift a few people. But the reality is that walking around the issue in any depth requires the tips of my toes as I wade through un-uttered stories of death, neglect, desertion, drug use, incarceration, physical abuse, mental disorder, and I don't know what else. I don't know because I didn't ask. I don't want to alienate anyone. But I want to the tell the story.

What I need to do is start working on a novel. My own novel. My own imagined story, with my own truths, in the creation of which I am reliant on nobody but myself. Sure, I'll have to do some research, but my sources can be as anonymous as they want to be. Each one can hide behind the nameless curtain of fiction to tell his or her tale in a way that emerges more truthfully than it ever could in a self-conscious newspaper or magazine article. These sources will not be beholden to me, nor I to them. Their words, once uttered, become mine to do with what I wish.

Journalism is supposed to be unbiased. It is supposed to be true. But that's not the story I feel most comfortable telling. There is too much space between people and paper. What I write can never be your reality. What I write can only ever be mine.


Mrs. Chicken said...

I've covered some ugly stories - the teens who died together on a railroad trestle trying to outrun the train.

The woman in a coma, raped by an aide, and impregnated. She lived long enough to give birth. The child of their dead daughter and her rapist is being raised by her parents.

The woman whose son died in a military plane crash, whose calm demeanor during our interview - just after his death - unnerved me to the point of tears.

It is a hard position to be in, one of immense responsibility. Telling someone else's truth is a task not to be undertaken lightly.

I understand.

Write your novel. I'm waiting for it.

slouching mom said...

Yes. Please do write that novel. We will all benefit.

Lawyer Mama said...

I can't wait to read about your reality.

jen said...

i can't wait to read about the truths of your being. write. for you.

Jocelyn said...

Truth sure is sticky; I'd love to read your fiction!

zellmer said...

"There is too much space between people and paper."

What a great line.

toyfoto said...

I am just like you. I cringe at pushing people, but I think having people like us as the journalists is important. The salacious stuff may sell, but the important stuff requires someone who is nuanced and delicate. That's what I think, anyway.

lildb said...

if you were to ask *me*, I'd say you could write anything, anything at all, and it would be liquid gold.

but that's just me talking.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to read the grandparents article. My dad raised my step sister's son and it is an ugly mess. My DH and I often think Madilyn might be the first grand child that they actually get to be a guilt free grandparent to. (Because they can send her home when they've spoiled her and not worry if she will laugh at their discipline later on.)

Ruth Dynamite said...

Yes - write for you. I keep telling myself the same thing.

my minivan is faster than yours said...

You are such a talented writer! Every time I read you I picture that you just sat down at your computer and created your posts effortlessly.

I really do hope you write a novel. I bet it would be a dream come true for you!

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