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.