By Caroline Brewton
When I was a girl of 14, I was in an accident that left me unable to speak for some time. I learned two things from this experience:
1.) Teenagers are cruel.
2.) The written word is immeasurably powerful.
I was effectively mute, unable to express opinions, give directions or talk about my feelings.
My vocal chords had been damaged and took some time to heal. Perhaps the most inconvenient thing I experienced during this time was being unable to shout at my family to turn off water in the kitchen while I was showering. My parents owned an old house, and to turn on a faucet in the kitchen or run the washing machine meant the shower water turned frigid. We’re a forgetful bunch – often, they would forget I was showering and run the water. Because I couldn’t remind them, I took a lot of cold showers in the days following the accident.
I tried various other methods of communication during this period, including pantomime, which mostly failed to get my point across and made me feel ridiculous to boot. I did, however, become a master at charades.
I also learned to write: not just my ABCs, but the real stuff, like how to organize my thoughts, effectively convey my point, and avoid fluff. It’s a skill I’m still mastering. It’s why I’m here at Baylor, and I want to spend the rest of my life doing it.
I had an English teacher who made me read Ray Bradbury’s “Fahreheit 451.”It was dense prose for a high school freshman, and I am not ashamed to say I struggled through the book. Untrained in literary criticism, the finer points of Bradbury’s writing were lost on me. I did find a few gems, quotes that resonated with me at the time. I only really understood them later, when I realized even if a story is not literally true it can contain elements of truth. I learned this, too, from a book — Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.” If knowledge is power, then writing is a conduit to power: it’s how we share knowledge.
There are parts of the human experience that are shared among mankind — maybe not everyone will experience all of them, or gain profound and real wisdom from the experience, but these elements are recognized by the collective we. That is what Bradbury meant when he said “The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.”
This is true of fiction, but it holds true for us journalists, as well. Through writing, we become human conduits. We share information, stories that move and touch us. We put faces on tragedies. We shine lights on accomplishments.
Newswriting allows us to be a voice for others who might otherwise pass unnoticed. I understand voicelessness — perhaps better than I’d like to — and that experience ignited a passion in me. I do not want others to experience the same. I want to serve as a mouthpiece for the news. I want to serve those who need to be heard.
Speaking, too, is important, but to me, at least, something about writing is eternal. When we talk about books, we use the present tense — even if a work was published years ago. Dead people only get the past tense, however great they were.
This article, for example, will remain in the Lariat archives online long after I have left Baylor. Even if I move, die, or change my name, this work and what I hope to express to you in it will remain.
So though I never regained my full vocal capacities — I still can’t scream, for example — I can type in all caps, AND SOMETIMES THAT IS MORE POWERFUL.
Caroline Brewton is a junior journalism major from Beaumont. She is the city editor at the Baylor Lariat.