Friday, October 7, 2011

How not to get a story.

Last Thursday I went out to immerse myself in a new community -- the Garment District. I've been tip-toeing around the real stories for a few weeks now, figuring out how to write without being intrusive. This time I had a different motive.

As I walked along the District's streets I poked my head into at least 10 shops, chatting with shop owners selling fabrics and samples. I was kind and friendly. I joked and laughed, tried to find common ground. Instead, my conspicuous Canon and I were greeted with irritation, paranoia and hostility.

I finally found a nice Bangladeshi man to speak with. He sold spandex, liked Indians, told me about immigration. I spent hours in the store taking photos, making friends, being asked about my Facebook name. Two and a half hours later, I was asked to leave. Turns out undocumented workers are not okay with their photos taken.

The rest of the day followed suit. I climbed up many stairs to get a door shut in my face by a psychic. A Jamaican man picking trash literally ran away from me and said he didn't like "publicity". Another guy collecting recycling laughed in my face, a Yom Kippur event with no good lighting. The shoe cobbler didn't like to talk and the donut guy was too busy. Even my attempt to turn a night at a bar into a photo story revealed only a cluster of blurred, shaky snapshots.

I trudged into a bookstore the next day. I always feel at home in a bookstore, especially the ones like this one with stacks of books in every nook. I began to shoot photos happily, following the light and the frequent visitors. Half an hour later I asked to do a quick interview with the owner. The snappiness in his voice made my heart sink. I got about three questions in and ran away.

For the past two weeks I've been likening myself to an awkward guy in a bar. The rejection when you're a journalist, especially an unaffiliated one, is immense and consistent. We're told not to take it personally, be thick skinned. But if you know me, that's impossible -- my skin's about as thick as chiffon.

Maybe I lack chops, or maybe it's a cold, busy, overwritten world. I prefer my position in the corner, watching the universe spin and letting my fingers follow. Good connections, like good boyfriends, I suppose, can't always be found on a deadline. But maybe I need to be more open to the blind dates of journalism and show up every time with renewed hope and stories to be swapped.


Rammya said...

brave of you to admit a struggle but as always you end it with hope. thank you for writing :)

Sinabun said...

so real. so deep.