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Reporting from Native America

Wednesday
October 1, 2014
Latest post: March 20 5:07 pm

The Writer's Journey

Writing evolves for new journalist

I walked into a gray classroom buzzing with fluorescent lights and immediately noticed a woman behind the desk. She was tiny, a little bird of a lady with a Marilyn Monroe bob and spring-blue eyes. She pulled me in immediately.

It was the first day of the first semester of my college experience at the University of New Mexico - Gallup. The professor threw me a concerned smile. She must've detected my apprehension. I wanted to look smart and edgy. Yes, smart and edgy, yet approachable. But I knew I'd failed.

I looked unsure. My uneasiness continued for miles into that first class, Poetry. I must have asked myself what I was doing in the class 50 times, going over the answers in my head because I knew she would want to know.

The classroom was composed of women, five of us including the teacher and the four of them were many years older than me. They had brilliant answers.

"I'm a registered nurse, but I'm looking for a career change." "My youngest son left to college, and I find myself painfully bored at home." "I served in the marines for ten years. I'm starting over."

It was my turn.

"My name is Paige. I graduated from high school a few months ago, class of 2005. I stayed here, and now I'm in this lovely community college classroom in. I think I want to go into elementary education. I would love to work and help kids but I'm undecided."

They nodded along. I felt unimpressive, to say the least.

The little blonde professor's delicate hands fanned around a book as she listened to our miniature bios. It was her turn. She sighed and asked us to close our eyes and listen. We were silent as she began, "For My Lover, Returning to His Wife..."

She read with a roar in her voice. There was a feeling in every line, pain in the pauses, and I was tangled, caught in words and emotion. "She has always been there, my darling..."

I will never forget my introduction to American poet Anne Sexton or the teacher who decided to read one of her poems aloud to the class. I remember stepping out of the building with the book I asked to borrow and knowing that something had changed.  Where there once was a dark room, there was now a new light and I couldn't turn away from the shine.

It took me three years after that fall day to get to the creative writing program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Now entering my fourth semester, my appreciation for words and the art of storytelling continues to grow and everyday I am exposed to the limitless possibilities in the writing field.

When I hear 'journalism', I automatically think of politics, earthquakes and restless nations., robberies and accidents. When I take time to think about what the journalism field could mean to me, I am taken to  my hometown of Gallup, N.M.

My family comes to mind. I think of my grandmothers, of the stories they hear from different people, stories scattered across the deserts of the Navajo Nation. I think of my mother, a former journalist, who traveled deep into the reservation to collect stories from everyday people and how her words reached out and touched audiences across the Southwest.

As I've gotten older, I've come to love the stories you have to dig a little deeper to find, the stories underneath elections and fraud, the school board and drug-busts. How is uranium mining still affecting families of those who worked the mines?

Who is the woman who publishes the monthly newsletter filled with Navajo teachings that sits in every restaurant in Gallup? Who is the kid who leaves amazing art on the walls of abandoned buildings across Navajoland and how did his art end up on a wall in downtown Albuquerque?

There is one hope that sits above all when it comes to writing. In fiction and poetry, I want the words to fit together perfectly, pushing and pulling readers to the conclusion that the words come from someplace real. I'm the first to admit that I have my work cut out for me.

With journalism, the real is a guarantee. Every story is born from a real place, from real people in these places dealing with situations and occurrences that need to be shared to remind us that we are all connected in the business of being human.

I will be more than happy to tell these stories.

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Paige Buffington, Navajo, is a creative writing major at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M. This is her first piece for Reznet.