I remember when I was back in high school, the one thing I really wanted to be was a journalist.
During year 10, I applied to so many newspaper and media outlets practically begging to become one for work experience week. I polished up, re-read and re-edited my applications so vigorously (and I never do that, ever. It’s a writer’s worst nightmare or maybe I’m just obnoxiously lazy…) I exhausted myself! I really wanted to get it. I would’ve done anything for it. I announced it to one of my favourite teachers who was a journalist herself and my family – and they really encouraged me. I was a passionate advocate, lover of the world but a story-teller at heart, and they all felt my voice would’ve amazingly contributed to society.
There’s something I find romantic about journalism. When I was younger (much younger), the appeal about rushing about and investigating the truth and reporting it as a social service to the community and the world appealed to me. Heated political discussions and policies, stories of the community and positive stories that could inspire or empower others through understanding others – that was the news I was interested in. I’ll admit – some the New Age-y stuff does repulse me a little bit- but it wasn’t truth alone that I thought the news was about – but truth with the power to make a difference.
The tireless hours, endless stress to make deadlines didn’t scare me. If there’s anything I was, I was a persistent fighter and monogamous to deadlines no matter the cost! I imagine myself about rushing around corners of cities, country towns and different countries as not just a seeker of the truth, but an explorer of possibilities and a story-teller in my own right where not limited to the imagination, but reflective of the greater community we call humanity.
It wasn’t uncommon that I formulated crushes on my favourite news reporters. They are a very attractive and intelligent bunch of people, and the possibility where I could be one of them – someone with facial scars, struggling with weight and burdened by the excessive self-consciousness of my physical flaws – part of that dream also entailed that I could be a spearhead for the people less beautiful. The people who aren’t conventionally attractive or gifted with God given charisma or people skills but would see a tenacious spark of a reporter that although has social anxiety at the back-burner, comes alive when informing others of powerful truths that may help shape for a better world.
I wrote for the local school newsletter, student newspaper and was encouraged to write for the local paper from an initiate made by my English teacher as a promo piece for the school. I cherish my experiences in my English classes the most (which inspired me to continue on as an English educator years later) . It was an amazing opportunity and I was thrilled at the delights of finally being able to call myself a journalist. I immediately took to writing the best article I could and helped others come up with story ideas, catchy titles and promoting doing the best I could to ensure that our school would be greatly recognised.
What happened next probably changed my entire attitude to journalism and writing as a whole – and it was something I never got over.
My article was selected to be published. The delight in me was incredible. I could officially say that I was an amateur journalist, or at least a writer! Something that was always promoted to me as a skill I was prodigious in and should pursue. My article had to have a photograph! There were two subjects I wrote about – and they were my dearest of friends that were meant to be the figureheads of my schools success!
As they were collected by me, a photo-shoot was conducted that had the myself and my two friends in the shot. I couldn’t believe it, a photo op and an article? This was fast becoming my favourite day. However, there was a worrying air that permeated a stink of harsh dis ingenuousness and even quite sadly mockery. As we took breaks on the photo-shoots, we were left alone and the people that worked at the local paper started murmuring at each other. Although I was engaged with my friends in conversation – I still, quite anxiously eavesdropped on their conversation.
Did we really need the boy?
No, he was just the writer. It’s better not to have him. He ruins the picture anyway
Yeah, just the two girls then. They are pretty. He’s a bit off-putting
The comment at the end was met with a mocking laugh. Something that somehow forcibly etched into my memory like a blunt dagger forging a mark on my conscience.
Now dear reader, you may be thinking; “But at the beginning, you made it sound like you were already reserved into the attitude to think you were the ugly child”. And to be quite honest in my response to that – I was. Granted with the blessed torment of bullies that criticised my weight, my unorthodox facial features, my ethnicity and my sexuality – I should have anticipated and shrugged off the comments of my established suit of armour for these types of insults…
But you see, I suppose in that frame of mind at that particular context – something broke inside me. It was my dream to be a writer and to be recognised. And no matter how strong you think your suit of armour is, relentless assaults on it can sometimes leave an opening. Bullying never goes away, it shapes and changes you. Sometimes for the better, as you become more resilient. And other times – you are just as exposed and as weak as you were without it. The comments don’t necessarily stop hurting – there’s just a better chance you have to dealing with it better. But even such defence mechanisms fail.
I was just a young boy who wanted to dream that in some way – that despite all my disadvantages whether physical, socioeconomic and/or mental that I could be something that was unexpected of me. Something that would surprise others in that I could successfully break the glass ceiling and push towards perspectives that didn’t see Asians as illiterate and science focused, for the overweight to be capable and for the ugly to be seen as beautiful. A dream in which I wrote for truth and I wrote for change. And a dream in which we value heart and substance over how we valued appearance.
But it was at that moment, my heart sank. It feels a lot different when those who were the gatekeepers of your ambition and the standard in which you held those established in your craft you were hoping to break into were the ones to break it to you that you “were too ugly to be in a newspaper”. This was then clarified when I was abruptly asked to step away from the photo shoot and I stood and watched my friends have their photos taken.
However the biggest hurt was when we had received copies of the newspaper and in which we saw our work. By then, the photoshoot didn’t phase me as much as it did, I had at least gotten an article in the newspaper. A journalist at last! But the article I saw, published under my name (spelt incorrectly) was barely mine. Frankly, I didn’t recognise three quarters of it. It omitted the part where I wrote about my friend that was thinking about going to TAFE. It omitted parts in things that I had laboured endlessly over. It omitted the heart and the voice to which was mine. And the photograph they used omitted me as well.
Not only had I been disowned for my appearance, but I was disowned from my craft as well.
Writing is a heart-breaking business, whether it be for professional purposes, creativity or even personal. But yet, what disturbed me more, is that journalists – who hold influence and power over presenting truths, so easily omit them.
It was from then on my love for writing waned. And I didn’t end up pursuing journalism as a career. It sounds petty, mourning my passions over a botched up, bad experience over what was a glorified advertisement for a school I was student in. But in a way, it was a poetic disengagement. It doesn’t surprise me now that journalism is faltering and that technology has shown the light on how people in the industry do not care for truth, but convenience to suit an agenda.
Alleged proponents of the truth, suiting a popular worldview and narrowing perspectives of consumers over expanding and allowing them to see the actual wonders that surround them. Supposed allies of the people, but creators of shock entertainment and witch-hunts to those that dare defy a dangerous sentiment through censorship. This was the world in the past that I wanted to be in, but it ultimately rejected me through these exact measures that attempts to control the public.
No more is it a world of truths. Perhaps it has never been. However it is clear it has devolved into incessant mudslinging and public lynching of those deemed unfavourable by those “fortunate” enough to sit idly in their ivory towers. Faux scandals, glorified hate-speech that goes unchallenged and riddled with bias and where truths and representation hides behind a paywall. I don’t “watch” the news and I occasionally get my dose of written articles through various websites – carefully evaluated without articles that are overwrought with a clear, extremist agenda. It makes me sad – where news has become an avenue to create mob mentalities and rally up hatred or shock against someone or something. Perhaps this isn’t ground-breaking, but still, when the capacity to present different perspectives is compromised – society is compromised.
A world I once desired to be a part of that ultimately rejected me. But now, in a way – I have come to reject itself. Very slowly have I come to terms where I have a voice and where I’ve grown to love writing again. And rather than hiding from my ambition to challenge, evaluate and change the world through words – through reflecting on these dire times – perhaps I’ve started finding that spark to fuel my motivation again.