I want to start by being very specific about who I am talking to; this post is meant for people who look like me, those of us with white skin. Many of you woke up this morning and heard the news ab…
Samantha stared ahead as the man she had cut off pulled up beside her and flipped her off again. He rolled down his window and shouted something unintelligible at her.
She moved into the right lane as she neared her exit. Hands sweaty and knees shaking, she got off the interstate and merged into the traffic on the highway leading to her new job. She hoped her commute wouldn’t be this bad every day. Samantha was new to city life.
She stopped at a traffic light and took a sip from her overpriced Starbucks coffee. Just as she brought the cup to her lips, a loud honk startled her into dropping it. It was him again–the man she had cut off. He was directly behind her now.
“For Pete’s sake!” Samantha groused.
She frowned down at her ruined outfit. The light changed, and she stepped on the gas. The man behind her followed suit, tailgating her as she drove.
Would he follow her all the way to work?
She didn’t want to risk her job finding out so she pulled into a parking lot. He pulled in behind her, causing her heart to gallop.
Maybe she should try reasoning with him.
She stepped out of her car and said, “Look, I didn’t mean to cut you off.”
“Fuck you, bitch! Fucking bitches always think they can drive like shit. What were you doing? Putting on your fucking makeup?”
Samantha didn’t know how to respond, so she shrugged.
Suddenly, he reached into his waistband and pulled out a gun.
“You fucking scraped my new car, bitch!” he screamed as he pointed it at her.
“Yeah. I bet you are.”
He took a step toward her, and the next thing she knew she was flat on her back, encased in a muscular set of arms as several shots sounded.
“Stop shooting!” she screamed several times before she realized that the shooting had stopped.
The arms around her tightened, and she buried her face in a muscular chest.
“It’s okay,” a deep male voice said.
Samantha pried her eyes open to see a man with long, dark hair and piercing green eyes looking at her. He stood up and pulled her to her feet.
“Stay here,” he commanded as he walked to the man on the ground. He kicked his gun out of reach and checked his vitals.
“Is he dead?” Samantha asked.
“Nah,” he replied with a shrug. “He’ll make it, but he might not be able to use that hand again. That’s the least he deserves for harassing you on the interstate.”
“How do you know–”
“I saw the whole thing. I was following you on my bike.”
“You’ll go to jail for shooting him.”
“Not today, sweetheart. I’m a cop. I was off duty until this asshole ruined your morning. What’d you do to piss him off?”
“I cut him off,” Samantha admitted as he body trembled.
“I’m Jake, by the way,” he said as his eyes skimmed down the front of her soaked shirt.
Show some love to my fellow IR authors! Click the links below to find their flash fiction stories based on the same picture.
Recently, I did something completely out of character for me.
I participated in a podcast interview.
Had I not felt an immediate connection to the podcast title, I’m not sure I would have had the nerve to do it. I am an introvert after all.
There aren’t many opportunities out there for indie authors to be taken seriously, so I had to go after the chance to be on a podcast. I went into the interview with a great deal of trepidation, but an hour into it I was more than glad I had pushed myself.
The host of The Introverted Indie Author Podcast is a man named Michael Sanford. He is an independent author who identifies as an introvert and thought it would be fun to bring other introverted authors together to see how much awkward silence he could generate. As it turns out, silence wasn’t a problem at all–it can be edited out. Also, both of us were comfortable with the occasional need to reflect and regroup during the interview process.
I went into the interview willing to be completely open about any subjects that arose. What I learned is that openness during an interview, especially an interview with a stranger, feels oddly intimate. We talked about the process of writing. We touched on some of my published works, and we discussed living with chronic illness. Through it all, Michael had his webcam activated, but I was too afraid to turn mine on. Somewhere around the fifty-minute mark, I finally turned it on. I’m proud that I was able to, eventually, get over my fear of being seen on a webcam. Turns out it’s not that bad. I’m not winning any beauty contests, but I didn’t break the computer screen either.
Now for the hard part… I have to post the interview to my social media profiles and encourage people to listen.
Why is this hard? Because I am an introvert, and I suffer from social anxiety.
The fear of being judged on any level keeps me isolated and silent most of the time. I’m sure I said plenty of perfectly smart and authorly things during the podcast interview, but I don’t remember most of it. Of course, what stuck in my mind are the myriad tiny things I could have done better. I’m sure I will listen to this interview at some point, but until then, I will live vicariously through others. Click the link below to give it a listen. Be sure to leave a comment to let me know what you thought.
I only recently started using Twitter. As an author, I know I should be totally ashamed of my appalling lack of social media prowess, but it is what it is.
About a week ago, I started working on my hashtag game. My current morning routine involves checking the trending hashtags on Twitter as I settle in for a day of writing. Usually the hashtags seem kind of fun and frivolous, and I am able to join in on some lighthearted fun. Today, however, a hashtag with all the potential to be fun hit me hard.
Really, really hard.
The moment I saw it, I thought, “I would give Donna her son back.”
My heart beat a little faster as a massive list came rolling through my previously happy thoughts.
I would give my author friend Sage her two sisters back.
I would give Suzy her daughter back.
I would cure Peggy’s Cancer.
I would get better insurance coverage for my cousin who struggles with ADD and depression.
I would give every person in an abusive relationship the courage, the self-love, and the means to leave.
I would give my best friend the assurance that her two special needs children are going to grow up to lead happy and meaningful lives.
I would give kids who feel inadequate from constant standardized testing an education system that works better to bring out the best in them.
I would give those in the fight to raise minimum wage a freaking raise AND more respect, because no US citizen working full time should be expected, yes I said EXPECTED, to live in poverty.
The list goes on and on. There are so many things that I would do with my shiny red button.
But, I live in a little place called reality. I know people like me rarely ever have the magical, shiny red button. Instead, people like the Walton Family (heirs to the WalMart fortune) and [insert name of ANY scumbag politician] have all the red buttons.
And what do they do with them??
Anything that benefits them and keeps the rest of us normal folks in our places, which, according to them, is down.
No, I don’t have access to a shiny red button, and that makes me incredibly sad.
If you had access to a shiny red button that had the power to change something, what would your shiny red button do?
~Adrienne D’nelle Ruvalcaba
When I received my initial diagnosis of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, my first reaction was relief. I had been feeling unwell for several years; the year leading up to my diagnosis was one of the worst in my life. For more than a year straight I woke up feeling like someone had beaten me up the night before…
My blood count was so low, it was at the level where doctors recommend a transfusion, and I had arthritis in all my joints. Simple activities like standing up were incredibly difficult. I dreaded having to go to the toilet because it was so painful just to sit down and then get back up. The stairs were like some kind of evil torture device, yet I continued to take them every day. I would tell myself, “you need to stop being so lazy.” Before my diagnosis, I chalked all the symptoms up to laziness and low pain tolerance. At no point did I consider that it wasn’t normal for a 25 year old to feel so rundown all the time.
Someone sneezed in my face during calculus class one day, and I caught their cold. Weeks later, the cold had turned into pneumonia and I missed two weeks of school. Still, I didn’t think anything was really wrong with me until one of my professors suggested I might want to see the doctor. The results of the lab tests were swift. My low blood count was not due to low iron. I had been prescribed iron pills months before, so my iron was now high… yet my blood count was still hovering around the dangerously low levels. The doctor ordered further testing, and after a positive ANA test and positive anti double stranded DNA test, a positive anti-SM test, low complement levels, and a physical examination which showed joint inflammation and the trademark butterfly rash across my face… I was diagnosed with Lupus.
“What is Lupus?” I asked the doctor who diagnosed me.
She explained that Lupus is an autoimmune disease. My immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues and organs, causing damage. Cases can range from mild to severe, and there can be any level of organ involvement. She told me that the vast majority of cases are restricted to the joints and skin, and can be easily managed with daily medication. She then explained that I would have to see a rheumatologist for all of my care in the future. Systemic lupus patients are typically managed by a doctor who specializes in internal medicine, and not by a regular family physician.
One week later, I had my first appointment with the rheumatologist. He explained what lupus was. His explanation was a reiteration of what the first doctor had said. He scanned through all the pages of my lab work, and then he wrote out requests for about 25 more lab tests. He said he wanted me to get them done as soon as possible.
On my next appointment, I asked him if he was entirely sure I had lupus. He looked up at me in surprise and said, “This is one of the clearest, easiest to diagnose cases of lupus I’ve seen. The college of rheumatology has 11 criteria for diagnosing a patient with SLE; to get a diagnosis you need to meet any 4 of the 11. According to your labs and medical history you meet most of them.”
He then looked back down at my lab report and started rattling off a number of additional tests I needed to get done. At this point I was a little overwhelmed. He told me that I had lots of bad antibodies in my blood…the kind that mean serious organ involvement. The antibodies found in my blood are an indication of which organs are being attacked by my immune system at a given time. There are no ambiguities in this type of lab test; if the antibodies are detected that means that the organ is currently being attacked and is in danger of becoming damaged. I was referred to the kidney doctor, because I had the antibodies in my blood that indicate kidney involvement and a urinalysis had turned up too much protein in my urine…another clear indication of some type of kidney involvement.
After more labs and more blood tests, and an ultrasound of my kidneys, it was determined that I had kidney disease due to the lupus. For the next year, I took more than 30mg of a corticosteroid called prednisone every day. This medication got the kidney disease under control, but there were lots of side effects.
My initial bout with kidney disease was just the beginning. In the years since then, my list of serious complications has grown and changed in some distressing and unexpected ways. After struggling with knowing what to tell people when I need help or rest, I now have the answer to the question, “Is it serious?”
When someone asks me this, my usual response is general. I tell them that lupus can be serious for some and not so serious for others. I guess I don’t want to reward people’s curiosity and good natured concern with the harsh facts of my case. If I were to be honest I would say that it is serious. It is very serious. Based on my lab work and my personal list of complications that I’ve been diagnosed with, it is very serious. I’m very photo sensitive, so the UV radiation from the sun and even from fluorescent lighting makes me sick. I spend so much time alone at home because I don’t feel well, and I know my body needs extra rest. For me, not feeling well encompasses a myriad of things: extreme fatigue, upset stomach due to liver inflammation (vomiting, diarrhea, and lots of pain and discomfort when I eat and/or take my meds), inflammation in my joints that causes so much pain that I limp around like a senior citizen, severe chest pain due to pleurisy, pericarditis, and my disease attacking my pulmonary artery (this is the one that scares me most), headaches and vertigo due to central nervous system involvement, and sometimes plain old sadness.
These are things that I will have to manage for the rest of my life. Now that I have been told I have heart disease and I’m at elevated risk of a heart attack or stroke because of what this disease is doing, what my own immune system is doing, I can no longer deny the seriousness of my condition. Lupus is way more real to me now, than it ever was in the past. It was easy to ignore the kidney disease, because it progresses so slowly and with so few symptoms, but I can no longer ignore everything else that is going on. I am not in a panic, but I have fully realized the gravity of this disease. I am in a fight for my life, but this is not the kind of fight that draws out the spectators to cheer you on. Lupus is not like cancer.
When someone tells their friends and family that they have been diagnosed with cancer, there is immediate support and understanding. No one asks, “What is Cancer? Is it serious?” The Cancer patient embarks on a journey that is very much like the Olympic 100 meter sprint. For a short amount of time, a few months or years at the most, the cancer patient is in an all-out sprint for the finish line, and death is sprinting in the lane next to them. Their families and communities are on the side lines cheering them on. If they beat the cancer, there is celebration with everyone watching, and if they do not cross the finish line first, everyone mourns them as a hero.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus is serious in a completely different way from Cancer. Lupus is more like a marathon one runs alone in the woods. There is no finish line; there is only the knowledge that you cannot run forever, and eventually the complications will catch up to you. Few people understand the struggle, the daily grind, and the eventual wearing down of your body and your emotions. Death is still there running beside you, a constant reminder that the moment you become complacent any number of things will go catastrophically wrong. Everything that is affecting your stride requires a lengthy explanation, so it’s easier to run this race virtually alone rather than having to explain everything over and over and over again. It is easier not to have your explanations be met with open skepticism. It is easier not to have to answer the question, “Is it serious?” when to most people it doesn’t look serious at all.
This post tells the story of my personal, and very limited, involvement in a film about the ballet career of Janet Collins. People of Color are used to being the outsiders, the exoticized, the other, in almost every aspect of life in Western culture. But being classified as other is still better than being shut out altogether. In her career, African-American ballerina Janet Collins was more than just an outsider. She was the outsider who eventually broke the mold of only allowing white bodies to fully participate in ballet.
Janet is a silent ballet film that celebrates her timeless contribution to the world of ballet. As the first African-American prima ballerina to dance full time with a major company, Janet Collins made herself heard by the institutional power that had silenced the voices of PoC for generations. This film was written, directed, and produced by Adam E. Stone.
Note: Featured image by Michelle Greene
The film begins with a very clear depiction of a WoC as an outsider. The actress in the image below is an artist who creates wonderful Rembrandt-style portraits. This image of DeSande R as an outsider appeals to me, because I have felt very much like an outsider throughout my life. My involvement in this film was cathartic for me, so I will begin from my perspective and widen the view from there.
Earlier this year, I was approached by an independent filmmaker. Before you ask how I, an introverted writer, could possibly know a filmmaker, let me assure you that it wasn’t my doing. It was one of those things that introverts typically get dragged into by an extroverted friend. My best friend, who is a classically trained Mezzo Soprano, has taught voice and performed at a number of places. She is an excellent performer, and she also happens to know a ton of entertaining, musical, artistic, and theatrical people. Adam Stone, the filmmaker who contacted me, is one of these talented people. When he approached my friend about doing a voice part in a film that was originally supposed to have been a spoken word ballet, she also recommended me for a small part. After I expressed interest in the part, Adam contacted me with the details of the role.
What followed was one of the more interesting endeavors of my life.
Adam mailed me the text for three separate monologues, a CD with the tone, inflection, and tempo he wanted for each monologue, and a contract for me to sign. After practicing the monologues for several weeks, I met with Adam to do the actual voice recording.
Yes…silent, introverted me!
To say that I was incredibly nervous would be the understatement of the year, but Adam understood and helped me overcome the nerves. We sat at his kitchen table and read through each of the monologues several times. Through each reading, he gave me instructions on how to interject more emotion into my voice. Sometimes a line called for a softer, more vulnerable tone, and sometimes it called for a little more force with an edge of attitude—attitude that did not come natural to me. After about an hour of reading at the table, it was time to go to the studio.
Now is the time for me to mention that I am NOTHING like my best friend. She is musical and effervescent and talented. She is not a shy shrinking violet like me. She has a magnificent voice that does not need a microphone to be heard, even with a choir singing in the background. She shines in the way people who were born to be famous performers shine, and when she performs she gives people goose bumps. Her voice is power; her voice is trained; her voice is the bomb…
Mine? Not so much.
So the idea of going into a recording studio, even if it was just to read, had me defeating myself with negative self-talk. Either way, it was too late to back out. I had already agreed to do it, practiced the monologues, signed the contract, and received payment. I was going to record those monologues no matter what. I had to.
Adam and the studio manager explained the basics of studio recording to me. I was shown into a large room with a microphone and a pair of headphones set up for me to use. They explained that, through the headphones, I would be able to hear myself as I spoke into the microphone. I would also be able to hear Adam if he had any pointers to give me during the recording session. Between takes, I was able to exit the recording room and sit in the control room as they played back the recording of my voice and edited each line. The first time I heard my voice over the loud speakers, it felt strange and foreign to me. Did I really sound like that? The voice on the speakers had a higher pitch and sounded younger, more unsure, and more tremulous than the voice that came out in my head. My voice was straight up wimpy, and I didn’t like it.
But I had to listen to it as Adam and the studio manager replayed certain lines of the recording over and over again. I have to go back into the recording room several times between each take to re-record a single line here and there. The entire process took all afternoon, and by the end of it, I was accustomed to the sound of my own voice.
Why is this such a big deal?
Because the voices of People of Color, Women of Color in particular, have been silenced for so long in this society that it never occurred to me that mine matters.
From a very young age, I learned the same lesson that almost every other PoC learns; I don’t matter. My opinions don’t matter, unless all I’m doing is agreeing with the status quo. My experiences with racism and prejudice don’t matter, because no one wants to hear from people who “play the race card.” My feelings don’t matter, because I am not a member of the dominant culture. My humanity doesn’t matter, because people with darker skin are still seen as subhuman in a lot of ways. My self-esteem doesn’t matter, because black girls are ugly anyway—so why should we have good self-esteem? My entire existence has pushed me to the conclusion that my voice doesn’t matter.
Yet, on that day, my voice mattered.
Flash forward to the filming and editing, and the long awaited final product…
I received a message from Adam, informing me that he had decided to take a very different creative direction. Instead of keeping the film a spoken word ballet, in which the paintings come to life and dance to the sound of our monologues, the film was to be a silent ballet.
After all that personal growth and work for me to come out of my well-constructed introvert shell, my contribution wasn’t to be used after all.
Adam was very gracious about telling me that my part had been cut, and he sent me a link to the finished film. Once I saw the film, I understood why he chose to make the film a silent ballet. It wasn’t that my voice wasn’t good enough; it was that silence was more effective. The film had a far greater impact on me as a silent ballet than it would have if there had been monologues.
The silence invites the audience to enter the experience in a contemplative and quiet state of mind. It tells the story of Janet Collins, the first African American ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera. But, the film tells her story without telling her story. Each dance scene is a moving picture that tells the audience more than a thousand words.
The image of the Black ballerina dancing on a grassy knoll, after being shunned by her White counterparts, seeps directly into the viewers’ conscious. Emotions awaken without the dramatic swell of music or the theatrical inflection of a voice giving a monologue. Instead, the silence of the film invites the viewer to fill in their own personal music—just how the filmmaker intended.
Janet Collins’s struggle to become a successful ballerina, in a world of racism and White supremacy, is depicted softly, elegantly even, in the changing expressions of the Black ballerinas in the film who hide backstage and watch the White ballerinas perform. We see the hope in their faces as they wait their turn—silently.
When their turn to dance comes, joy is depicted using the fluidity of movement rather than sound.
Black voices and expression were so silenced in Janet Collins’s time that, even though she did enjoy a career as a ballerina, it wasn’t as full bodied and prolific as it would have been had she not been shut out for so long.
Janet celebrates the, often overlooked, contribution of PoC to the arts. In particular, this film celebrates Janet Collins in the most simple, yet impactful way. It allows you to see her story through the silent movements of some of the very women whose ballet careers she helped make possible.
My decision to make a completely silent ballet film was influenced not only by the fact that members of non-dominant cultures historically have been, and to some extent continue to be, “silenced” within the world of classical ballet, but also by my desire to connect the film explicitly to the worlds of painting (as exemplified in the film by the four Degas paintings that come to life) and photography (as exemplified by the four ballet photos–of Adeline Genée, Daphne Dale, Harriet Toby, and Janet Collins–that play a key role in the film), worlds in which meaning has traditionally been conveyed without sound, and in which a work of art stands or falls strictly on the basis of whether its meaning, or story, has been successfully expressed by the use of the visual image alone. The film also pays homage to the great Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova (1881-1931), the dancer who most inspired Janet Collins: Pavlova once told an interviewer that she planned “to try the experiment of a ballet without music some day,” because she thought it “logical to suppose that dancing should call forth a melody in the brain of those who witness it,” and such a ballet would allow every viewer to be “his or her own composer” – a sentiment that adds to and enriches the ideas about “silence” expressed by composer John Cage in his seminal 4’33” and earlier works. My hope is that the film inspires both reflection and action, and above all honors the legacy of Janet Collins and other early ballet dancers of color.
When/Where you can see this film:
- October 14th-16th at the Urban Mediamakers Film Festival: http://www.umff.com/mpages/umff2014-films-shorts-2.html
- December 4th -14th through The INTERNATIONAL BLACK WOMEN’S FILM FESTIVAL (online streaming is also an option during this festival): http://www.ibwff.com/festival/#section-1
More about the filmmaker: http://adamestone.com/wordpress/
This is a great blog post for any author! No matter how seasoned we think we are, there is always the potential for a scathing review to hurt our feelings. I’m still developing a thicker skin.