Thursday, November 10, 2016

Random Acts of Violence

Last night I had a reading at Magers & Quinn in Uptown. I kind of wanted to bail on the whole thing, of course. Like a lot of people I know, I spent much of yesterday breaking out into uncontrolled sobbing. But, we were talking about Women in Science Fiction and I'd made a promise. Moreover, the bookstore had made a concerted effort to have my books available and so I didn't want to let anyone down.

I didn't think anyone would come. Most of us are so shattered and the topic seemed so... I mean, as I was telling friends of mine earlier, I was feeling so beaten down that I was afraid that all I would manage was to burst into tears an say, "Why bother!? Misogyny won!" But, again, I thought, no, this is important. I need to do this. Besides, it's just a reading. If no one comes we can go to the bar and cry.

But people came.

I was supposed to meet my fellow panelists early at a nearby restaurant, but with traffic, my mood, and everything else, I didn't manage it. So I ended up at Magers & Quinn early and watched people come in. One of the first was a friend of mine from fandom, Sybil, who was still leaking tears as she talked about friends of hers who were seriously considering suicide. I had no words. We all feel so hopeless. But, I offered a hug and my sympathy.

By the time we started, the house was actually packed. It was standing room only as we started to tentatively talk about what it's like being a woman writing in a predominantly male dominated field. I talked about my added issues as a queer writer. We were sharing "war stories."

Out of the blue, in the back of the audience sharp words were exchanged. A chair went sliding. Someone got shoved into the stacks. I heard a sickening, wet-crunch of a punch being thrown. Everyone was so shocked it took a minute to even understand what was happening, but then people dialed 9-1-1, some guys rushed back to break up the violence. The aggressors stalked out with threats of "we'll see you outside." To which we responded, with, "No, we're calling the cops." No one knows what started it. Maybe a fight over a chair offered? Maybe thugs looking for PoC to beat up on? But the aggressors didn't seem particularly white (I would have said they were Hispanic, but they did not read as white, regardless), and they punched a white guy....? Were they looking for a white guy to hit (weird place given that everyone there were allies and the room was very much dominated by women and several other PoCs, including the victim's wife and children)? What hell happened? It was crazy. Beyond crazy to surreal.

I have never attended a reading/panel discussion that broke out into violence before in my life. I can only assume that this random violence was the angry version of my random tears. Something uncontrollable, volatile, hopeless. It might have been an attack on PoCs/queers/women, but what weird place to go looking for us! Why chose a bookstore when Uptown is full of taverns and clubs?

But what is even more astounding to me is that the reading went on.

After the aggressors stalked out, the cops called, the victim tended to... we went on. People stayed. No only did they stay, but we managed to talk about why what we're doing is important. People listened, people spoke, people asked questions... I cried randomly once, but we also managed--AFTER ALL THAT--to laugh, all of us, together.

I can't even begin to really process or understand what happened, but, despite how awful it was, we went on, you know? One step at time. One moment at a time. And we found a way to survive. More than that, we survived and thrived, together.

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