Forward with fear: Telling better stories

We are all scared of something.

Some of our fears are easily explained, like deadly spider bites or the open ocean or piercing needles. But sometimes, fear is a bit more complicated.

I have always dreamed of being a writer. Even before I began to grow up, before I tried to overhaul my college career, writing was on my back burner. It would be hard, I thought, it would take time; but eventually, I would find a way to make it work. That was before I realized that the old cliche was true: there is no time like the present, and if I wanted to be published, I needed to do it now.

So there I was, barely 21, deciding all over again to make a name for myself as a storyteller, in a world where very rarely does the real cream rise to the top. There would be competition, of course; but nothing like the competition between my own ears for what I wanted to write about.

Before I transferred into the School of Journalism, I had written approximately zero news stories. I didn’t even read much news, to be quite honest; my interests revolved around my own thoughts and the thoughts of others, and why people did what they did and whether or not I could hash out those reasons on paper or blog. The stories I told were fabrications of what I saw happening; they were one-sided explanations, myopic expressions of what someone might be feeling.

When I first dabbed in journalism, I was fortunate enough to┬ábe able to report on and experience stories that were largely positive in nature. Perhaps that can be seen as simplistic, but I never minded it. I never called myself a “hard news” girl. I like music and concert reviews and feature stories on festivals and legacies, and I reported on those things with very little hesitation. They appealed to me, perhaps, for their myopic subject matter: embrace art, embrace music, embrace community.

Immigration is never something I thought I would cover. Women and children embroiled in a topic that gets even the most level-headed people heated? Usually, I would say count me out. I can deal without the drama and negativity. Leave me in the dark to bury my head in the sand, thanks.

But I said yes. Knowing the road I was headed down, I said yes. Yes to broken families, yes to dark stories, yes to controversy.

I volunteered for the first story in our Children on the Edge series partly because I thought it would be a fairly easy tell, and for the most part, it was. People were helpful and insightful and didn’t profit from family detention in a way that could color their perception of immigration, or mine. Not to mention Austin is home to over a million people and is one of the most progressive and “blue” cities in Texas. But for such a controversial topic, the story I told felt limited.

Enter: Karnes City. A town the size of my high school, sucked into the black hole of a news story it never asked for. I couldn’t characterize it; though I tried to pigeonhole the community, through limited contacts and my own prejudices, it defied what I expected and escaped definition. I thought I knew what it would be; I was wrong.

I can’t help but feel that the snap shots of the residential center are decidedly unscary — and yet there was a knot in my stomach the whole time, hoping I could dodge the Crown Victoria on parking lot patrol and avoid any awkward questions from people employed by a corporation profiting from the detainment of women and children. These aren’t bad people, I told myself, but that doesn’t stop them from being frightening.

I was scared to tell the story of Karnes City. I was scared to meet small-town people and scared to drive up and down beat-up roads past beat-up buildings. I was scared to talk to people, to ask a priest for insight, a nun for opinion, or a prison guard for fake directions.

But I did. And I’m a better storyteller for it.

Fear is a funny thing. It locks you up alone, then taunts you to bolt for the exit. But the funniest part is that no matter how scary things look out there, one step outside the door is better than none at all.

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