Between the Words and Me

I like to think that I was raised by words. My parents were both English majors at UC Berkeley, so our house was always scattered with books and magazines, pen-pal letters, and haikus. I was the little girl reading The Magic Treehouse books under the covers hours past my bedtime with a sparkly keychain flashlight, turning pages faster than I could blink and eating up the words like they were air and I couldn’t breathe.

As a second-grader, I wrote stories. I would lose myself in my small red notebook: a gateway for my innocent mind that saw only the good in the world and disregarded all evil, believing that it could always be overcome. I got scolded for my creativity: scribbling plots on the back of my math worksheets, sketching characters on desktops, and penciling a setting in the school’s anthology. Eventually, I was reprimanded enough throughout elementary school that I stopped my creative writing. It was something that now seemed insignificant, inferior to the book reports and expository pieces encouraged by my teachers — writing about words that came from others’ minds was considered more appropriate.

As I got older, I unconsciously became more secretive about my writing. I sometimes wrote poems, but only on napkins in the cafeteria that were eventually tossed away along with the rest of the things that the school didn’t eat. What I didn’t realize, however, is that every one of my crumpled-up stories, every one of my discarded poems was being recycled, not thrown away. Their new form was a different kind of storytelling called journalism, one that I have proudly embraced and carried with me as my newfound passion. I have realized that my days of feeling that my words should be silenced and scribbled over with words out of someone else’s mouth is a struggle felt around the world by journalists in every country.

Words can destroy and rebuild, change your entire feelings about a person, make you empathize with someone halfway around the world whom you’ve never met, rip apart your life in years or in seconds. I have hated words and I have loved them. I have also felt that there is no way to express a human emotion in any combination of twenty-six letters.

Yet I feel that words have power beyond comprehension. That’s why I see journalists as global messengers, dutifully informing the world of both the silenced and oppressed and the ordinary.

But so many writers everyday are not just scolded, but imprisoned, tortured, killed, and kidnapped for writing words that come from their mind, for peeling away the tape that covers the truth and silences their freedom. They are forced to speak and write the words of others, those who believe that their words are superior. This extinguishes the feeble flame of storytelling, which can only be fueled by the writer’s confidence that their words are meaningful.

Originally published in the Berkeley High Jacket on May 29th, 2015.