Eye for an eye

This week was one of the most mentally exhausting weeks I’ve had in a while.

Well, I guess you could say last weekend was just as draining too. I hesitate to say “draining,” though, because that word carries a negative connotation to it. The thing is, this past weekend was the weekend that I’ve been looking forward to for a year – literally a year.

It was True/False weekend. (Ah! Oh no! Not another post about True/False! Fear not. Or fear. Whatever. I’m still going to write about it.)

I first came to True/False in my freshman year here at MU as a volunteer for events. From running around in a gorilla suit under peals of thunder and sheets of rain to being equally saddened and exhilarated by film after film after film, I could say I’d never experienced anything like it before.

I’ve fallen in a beautifully serendipitous way into True/False, being just a student at the university. But the fest has never failed to excite me weeks – and months – beforehand.

I came to the journalism school originally for photojournalism, but for a slew of reasons and because of shifting tides in my interests, I switched to written journalism. I felt like I was more attuned to writing.

But as time has passed, I’ve really felt a deep gouge within myself that has to do with the stories I tell. I write, and I write, and I write – and I love it. I love writing. When I cry and thrash around and curl up on my couch under the weight of a moment of depression, the first thing I do is go to my computer or grab a sheet of paper and write. I have a huge collection of short stories and poems lying around like shards of glass memories.

But every time I come to True/False, I feel like the stories told are being done in such an innovative and visceral way that I can’t help but think that that’s the way in which I should communicate. There’s something so instantly connecting about visuals, something that’s so successful at garnering a response from people.

(I know everyone else says this. Literally everyone else who goes to the fest wants to become a documentarian. I know this. But it’s hard not to want to. And I refuse to listen to anyone who is condemning about the idea of documentarian-style anything just because other people are interested in it. And, anyway, isn’t that the goal of something like T/F – to get people to want to jump on board?)

I’ve had a lot of trouble and difficulty over the past year, and I’m not sure I can really pinpoint what it is. I’ve struggled a lot and I’ve pushed myself through, and I’m in a wonderful place. But sometimes I find myself drifting into a stream of sadness that, while brief, is significant.

When Brian Storm came to MU a while ago to talk about his website MediaStorm, he said something about how we as journalists take too much command when telling a story (I mean, that’s our job, duh). He said how we should instead let the people themselves tell their stories, and give them the reins. I’m not saying let citizens write A1 articles or man the copy desk. Rather, let them cry when their dog dies. Let them laugh when they finally get that trick on their skateboard or kick a wall when they get let out of a night in jail. And most importantly, let them show these things through you as a medium, whether that medium is a film camera or a video camera or a pen. I can’t help to think, however, that seeing someone laugh is much more effective than reading someone laugh.

I know this isn’t the right thing to say right now. I want to say, “Yes! Writing, the almighty form of communication!”

But I can’t simply say that. I’m not devaluing writing. In fact, writing is what I’m good at. It’s what I have the most natural ability with. But when I tell my stories, the stories are not about me. They are not about my ability or about what I think is best. They are about the person I’m writing about.

Maybe I just need to become a better writer and come to terms with the difficulty of description and with enticing readers.

That’s one main thing I’ve been struggling with. I want to write, and I will continue to. But if I can see these documentaries impact people at such a local level in such a strong capacity, I can’t help but deny wanting to be a part of it.

And, besides, going back into visuals doesn’t mean I can’t hone my writing craft. There is a marriage between writing and visual, narrative and scene. Now I’m realizing not only how important visual is, but also how much I want to be making the visuals myself.

I had a DSLR camera for a long time that broke last year.

I’m buying a new one (somehow) and I’m going to be working on bringing back my visual side in my spare time.

But for now, I must continue to write. I need to learn how to use both methods – written and visual – to communicate. I don’t think it’s write to approach journalism looking only at clip count and bylines and page numbers. It’s about the stories we tell. It’s about the people we talk to and the people who listen to us. And if there’s a way to tell a story that can bring a hardline frat star to tears and a quiet girl to feminist anger, there’s no way I’ll tell that story any other way.

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