“To be inside art, not outside thinking about it. Rose had forgotten how it felt. Journalism did not work like that.” – ‘Don’t I Know You?’ by Marni Jackson
Last Christmas, Marni Jackson’s book Don’t I Know You was on my list. My grandparents bought it for me, but I didn’t get around to reading it until this summer.
The reason I wanted the book was because I had interviewed Jackson for a story I wrote in my fourth year of university on chronic pain, something which I deal with on a daily basis. Jackson is a Canadian author and journalist, and has written several non-fiction books, of which one is titled Pain: The Science and Culture of Why We Hurt. Her book Don’t I Know You? was her first foray in fiction. I wanted to read it because I wanted to know what the transition from journalism into fiction looked like.
Reading the book after I had recently quit my job, the above quote really resonated with me. I left my one-year stunt as a political reporter to try to explore different ways I might be able to write in a meaningful way. I have always wanted to create art, but journalism offered a craft that could allow be to be so close to art, but never really in it. I think I crave to be inside art, like Jackson’s character is, and I don’t think that craving will go away until I can achieve it.
A big factor in my decision to go to journalism school was that I wanted to be a writer. I wasn’t alone in that regard, a number of my peers also cited their love of books, reading, and writing, as what led them to the program.
The thing is, in order to create journalists, the professors encouraged their students to strip their writing of any flair or creativity, and first focus on structure, style, and of course, facts. Fine. That’s the foundation of journalism, and I get it. But I’m not likely the first to admit it was a bit disheartening for someone whose driving factor in going to journalism school was creativity.
But I stuck with it, and by the end of my fourth year, I had a few opportunities to re-inject some spice into my writing. I took a long-form magazine writing course, for instance, wherein I interviewed Jackson for the article on pain.
Then came graduation.
Graduating university and entering the job market can feel a bit like a rat race. Or it can feel a lot like a rat race, particularly if you’re already coming from a program where there was always a sense of competitiveness amongst your peers.
I didn’t really know what to do, but I had interned at a political newspaper for a few weeks as a part of my degree, and while it had been tough and gruelling, seeing my byline and feeling like I was producing worthwhile journalism was a rewarding experience. I applied for a job, they happened to have an opening right when I would be finishing school, and the rest is history. I worked there for a year, putting in long hours, and lots of sweat and tears.
As somebody who struggles with mental illness, it was not an easy job. There were definitely days when I was pushing my limits. For those of you outside of journalism, you should know that newsrooms can be a toxic culture of over-productivity. Journalists are hardcore committed to the work they do, and they often work incredulous overtime for very little pay, and often little thanks from readers.
This was part of why I quit my job, sure. I’m not certain I’m cut out for office life if I’m being honest, and that might not be restricted to journalism. But that’s another conversation.
Part of why I quit my job was because I wasn’t quite ready to settle down into a ‘career’ just yet. I am young, and I wasn’t ready for the long-term responsibility of it all.
I felt like I blinked, four years went by, and all of a sudden I was out of school, where I had fling after fling with different concepts of my future.
In my journalism job, I had started something that could easily become the rest of my life. Some days I felt like I was caught in some kind of current, and if I didn’t exit here, I would be swept up into a lifetime of doing one thing, when I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to be doing something else instead.
Another part of why I quit my job was because I realized, while I was writing two or three 1,500 word stories a week plus one or two smaller ones, that I wasn’t always writing what I wanted to be writing. And I get it, no writer gets to start writing exclusively what they want to write. Plus, there is a ton of value in writing things that you don’t want to write. Leaving the comfort zone while writing is one of the most important aspects of the process, in my opinion.
I think the thing was, I wasn’t always writing what I wanted to write, but the core problem was I didn’t even know what I wanted to be writing. Still with me?
So, now I’m heading back to school, back to the drawing board, with a little bit of a better idea of how I want to pursue my writing. (I’m going to be working on a master of arts in communication and media studies, where I’ll get to write entire essays and a thesis on things I’m interested in, so that should be a good starting point!) I don’t want to take a job just because it involves writing words. I want to know if I’m capable of writing fiction, for instance, like the talented Marni Jackson did. I don’t think that’s something all journalists could do.
That said, I’m not shutting the door on journalism either. I am proud of a lot of the work I did in that year at that job, and it’s a path I could see myself continuing. The difference is, I want to know that I want that path because I want it, not because it’s been set in front of me because it was what my degree was in and it’s what all my peers are also aspiring to, if that makes sense.