Two weeks ago I read D. Patrick Miller’s article “Notes Toward A Journalism Of Consciousness” [Issue 170]. Having done some media work during the past six years, I found it extremely helpful. I had no idea how helpful it would be until a cover article about me and my medical practice was recently published in the Maine Times.
Having spent more than eight hours talking with the journalist who wrote the piece, I felt I knew her. She is a Buddhist meditator and does fine work on environmental issues. She is also a feminist; I felt that the two of us had an excellent connection.
When the article came out, it had a flavor of controversy which I have never perceived in my practice. I found D. Patrick Miller to be right on target when he said, “So far as I could tell, journalists of all stripes — left, right, and mainstream — enjoyed the battle of their jousting perspectives too much to confront their personal investments in conflict.”
Had I not read Miller’s article prior to the publication of this piece, I would have been quite disheartened. Now it feels as though I have simply slipped into the bad guys/good guys arena upon which all journalism is based. I found that the journalist who interviewed me was not interested in my work. She was more concerned with stirring up controversy.
I was planning to send her Miller’s article in any case, because I had the feeling she would appreciate what he had to say. I will now send the article with a note suggesting she could be a recruit for the field of conscious journalism.
In the future, I do not intend to spend hours with a journalist until I have written assurance that I will be able to review the final piece. I want to make certain that what I have to say is fairly represented. I thank you for this very healing piece.
Concerning D. Patrick Miller’s article, “Notes Toward A Journalism Of Consciousness” [Issue 170], I believe the same dilemma exists in the realm of fiction. The key issue centers around intention: what exactly is my motivation for writing about this person? If it’s out of praise or celebration, then it might seem there’s no problem. But even if it is written out of deep respect and admiration, some people are very sensitive about how they are portrayed. In one instance, a man upon whom I had based a crucial character of a play was absolutely incensed at the violation. I remember the letter he sent me: all the o’s were punched so hard that light streamed through the paper. I was devastated by his response; I thought I had portrayed him in a heroic light. The man had overcome so much in his life. But in the play, he saw a buffoon.
Fortunately, I had the good sense to send him the text before I went about trying to market it. When we finally reached an understanding, I found I liked the play even more. Initially, I was ready to change the character to suit his tastes. But that didn’t feel right, despite my concern over inflicting pain on him. What, after all, does a writer have to work with except the truth, as he or she sees it? The need for approval is strong enough without adding the terror of offending anyone. But that is exactly what must be faced. I am always tested when I unveil a work, because I tend to write about people I know. Friends. I couldn’t write a word if I considered their possible reaction before the work is complete. I finish a work, and then I deal with those who may be offended.
Surely the writer, for his or her own integrity, must be free to offend, while at the same time remain cognizant of the responsibility involved. Truth, the ability of the writer to name reality as he or she sees it, must be served.