I learned very early that I needed to remove my emotions when it came to writing for a newspaper. It was a difficult lesson. Before journalism, writing needed to be emotional to be sensible. As a journalist allowing your emotions into a story is an impossible task. Emotion can contaminate objectivity.
It’s impossible to turn your feelings off on things you are passionate about, and despite my awkwardness and my anxiety, I am passionate about people.
Interviews never provoke my anxiety, the search for knowledge keeps me centered and balanced.
I’ve done two interviews recently, however, where passion trumped objectivity and both interviews left me anxious. I’ll use this post to write about it.
The first was two months ago. I had gotten a message on one of the newspaper’s social media pages about a young girl who had gone missing. The sender implored me to contact her relatives so that the Guardian TT could publish a story which would aid in finding her. It was really quite routine stuff.
I called and spoke to the girl’s father, who quite calmly told me the story of her disappearance. Her name was generic and simple, the pronunciation was the only clue I needed.
His name was much more difficult so I asked him to spell it.
His response was: “Well girl, I don’t really know how to spell and thing nah.”
I’m known for my ability to roll with the punches and have a speedy response to any situation, that skill is a requirement for me to stay in control of situations and myself, a necessity to deal with my anxiety.
But when that father, a 57-year-old man from a rural community responded, I was silent for a moment that was uncomfortable to both of us. I gathered my thoughts, told him it was fine and that I would figure it out, and ended the call shortly after.
I sat and stared at my office phone and the burning need to fix his inability to spell his name crashed into the crippling realisation that there was very little I could do and for a moment I couldn’t breathe. It’s weird when that happens.
It’s more common than you might think, the number of people in T&T who would not be able to recognise their own name if you wrote it down on a piece of paper.
It is one of the things that truly hurt me. Knowing that people are being held back in life because of a lack of knowledge.
If I was a pageant contestant, I wouldn’t ask for world peace, I’d ask for an erudite world, where access to knowledge was unfettered for all.
That’s not the world I live in, however. I live in a world where a modern man cannot spell his name.
That type of story, “girl missing from home” is what we categorize as a crime story. I hate crime stories mostly because of the emotional burden of writing them.
I wrote this one, kept it short and to the point, and then followed up with that man every single day, for a week until his daughter returned. That’s something I wouldn’t usually do. The conversations were awkward.
-“Has she returned?”
– ” Did the police visit your home yet?”
-“No. We went to another police station but they say they will come home by we yesterday and they didn’t come.”
-“I’ll call them.”
“Did the police come?”
– “Them come yesterday but they ain’t really do nothing and we don’t know what else we supposed to do.”
And those are the words that bother me the most “we don’t know.”
There are loads of things I don’t know, but I usually have an idea of where to find out and I am empowered enough to follow that idea.
I maintained my objectivity in writing but I let my compassion lead me during the interviews.
He eventually told me that his daughter didn’t like school and didn’t want to learn so they let her stay home in form one and she never returned. They didn’t know what she should do then so she just stayed home and helped with housework.
That is the cycle she resides in, but I reside in it with her because it constantly bothers me that I can’t help her want to learn or worse, that I don’t know how.
Thank you for reading,