Here is the logline of my latest screenplay: The head of a battered women’s shelter struggles to take down the hero fireman who stalks and rapes her after she helps his wife.
The word that people say to me when they hear this sentence is: intense.
Can I tell you how much I hate that word? I’ve been called intense since before I was in the womb (or at least it feels that way), and what it always seemed to mean was, “too much.” Or, “tone it down.” Or, “too dark.” Or, “too emotional.”Or, very simply, “SHUT THE F UP!”
I mean, I really hate that word.
I will say that Run from Fire dives into a small town experience of violence and injustice in which a battering rapist is able to run wild because his brothers, cousin and uncle are all cops and firemen.
It’s about rape. And fear. And trying to overpower someone you can’t overpower.
My partner said to me, last night as I was freaking out about having sent it to contests, that I need to remember that I am an artist who sees the world from an outsider point-of-view, and everything I write is controversial. People get mad at me because of what I write. And that is a good thing, because I’m trying to wake them up.
I’m writing about rape. In the thriller genre. Because I have something to say about violence, about the need for power and control (in everyone, not just the batterer/rapist), and I believe what I have to say is important. Drilling down into the dark isn’t easy, but unless we can look the hard truths of the human experience in the face, they will run us right off this planet.
I’m saying I believe what I write is important.
And when I’ve written about this subject before, the critics tore me to shreds. The male critics, gay and straight, I should add. The women were more balanced.
I would like to say that this scares me. That it felt terrible. That part of me believed we should all keep silent about such things, even as, clearly, I stood up and shouted I would never shut up.
Oh, how hard it is to separate yourself from your own work!
Because I am a survivor of violence.
Not just an activist for women’s rights. Not just the woman who testified before judiciary committees and marched on Washington. But the one who knows the private moments of humiliation and powerlessness no one should ever know.
This does not mean I don’t know what I’m talking about. It means that I do.
But it also means that criticism, and being told to shut up, overtly or not, really friggin’ hurts.
I believe art can be about any subject. There’s not a single autobiographical fact in my screenplay, but somehow it feels about me, because there’s a stigma around the subject matter.
Let the screenplay stand on its own merits. Let me tell the stories I tell from the strength and power of both terrible truths and heartbreaking kindness.
Let me say that I am afraid. That I remember the vitriol of critics, the intense discomfort of people afraid to ask if I knew something about this subject, the shame we all have in talking about it.
So, preemptively–yes, I know something about the subject. Since my explosion into performance came from winning the Amazon Super Slam Finals with two poems about violence against women, that really shouldn’t be a secret.
I would like to say that when I write about an Episcopal priest possessed by grace and integrity, I also know what I’m talking about, and not just from the priests I’ve interviewed. I know her from the inside out.
I don’t have to be afraid when I tell her story. I don’t care what the critics think. I’m not vulnerable to shame.
More fear, when you break the taboo. More courage, to break it.
Harder, to write the story truthfully, to make sure it’s artistic, but not to make it less difficult out of the fear of what people might think.
I hope the people who read my screenplay find it well-crafted, meaningful, fast-paced, stunning and disturbing.
It’s a story.
And I’ve never been able to care for long what people think. Mostly, when they hurt me, I want to get even, as soon as I can.
That’s in the story, too.