Yesterday evening an author named James [name changed] shouted at me. He was one of the speakers on the writers’ panel. During the Q & A, I asked him a question; he told me that I should give-up writing.
I am more comfortable thinking my thoughts than trying to put them down. Around three years ago, I joined a Writers’ Club. I find their workshops, speaker series, open mics, and other programs informative. These programs have helped me understand the writing-world better. People are cordial, some more than others.
In three years, I have never approached a speaker after a meeting to shake hands or congratulate or ask anything. I listen to everything, even if it is not relevant to me. I pay same attention to a fantasy-fiction author as I do to a memoir writer. Mind you, I have never read nor do I intend to read fantasy-fiction. I believe that information leads to knowledge that helps me make informed decisions.
Yesterday there were six authors on the panel, yet I spoke only to James. I liked his presentation; I thought I would get along with him. So during the Q & A time, I approached him with my question. I told him about myself, about what I write, and my goals. I asked him a question.
I am not writing this because my question was great or his answer was bad. I am not bothered that my question was not answered. In these speaker series, some people ask great questions and some questions have common-sense answers. I want to give James the benefit of the doubt, so I say that my question was the zenith of stupidity. But does that excuse his behavior towards me? He spoke to me with such vitriol in his demeanor that nine hours later I am awake and my is core is still shaken.
He was standing. His face was red. His hands were aggressively moving around. He was shouting. There was spit coming out of his mouth. Whenever he spoke, spit rolled down his beard, some fell on his shirt, and few drops landed on the table. He told me that whatever I am writing is wrong. Even though he hasn’t read anything I have written. He enforced that my style of writing is wrong. He told me that things are not possible. I don’t know why I didn’t say anything or walked away from him. I think it is my insecurity about my writing.
Within few minutes another man joined us—a big man with a big belly. He was wearing a shiny horizontal black-and-white t-shirt. His face was round; his belly was rounder. When he spoke, his lips made a round shape. When James was shouting and wildly gesturing at me, this round man pulled a chair and sat down. He looked at me with disgust; he chimed in and dismissed me with a gesture.
I wish, I were a quick thinking replying and hitting back kind-off person. I am working on that. I am slow. I wish I had said to James, “Try to be kind, even though you think I am not worth your time and intelligence.” I wish I had asked the round man, “Is this your normal behavior? Or this is how you treat women? Or was this because of my race?”
I am not in a habit of playing the women or the race card. My graduate class in Texas had six students: five white American men and me—only female, only international student, and only architect. They rarely stopped for toilet breaks during class-field-trips. I never played the woman’s card. I heard racist comments outside the campus, but I never analyzed it. I was an Indian student in Texas. I accepted my role in the society.
In my three years of writers’ meetings, I have seldom met other Indians. But it is impossible for anyone living in Bay Area to have never interacted with an Indian or an Indian woman or a smart Indian woman or a writer who is a woman and is an Indian.
I have tried to analyze James and the round man’s behavior. I am digging deeper within my sensibilities. But my insomniac brain is stuck on two things. First from now onward, I will be apprehensive of all speakers. Second needs some explaining. I migrated to America ten years ago, and in America I am a person first and my gender second. I assumed that people saw me as me—just another person, irrespective of my gender and my race. Now, I will be more mindful of my gender and my race when I am attending writers’ meetings.
Update: A mutual friend, who is unaware of James-issue, introduced James to me and me to James. James replied that he had met me. Probably because I had written the above and I had analyzed myself, I told James that he was rude and shouted at me. ‘I gave him a piece of my mind’. He was taken back; he mumbled something about not spoiling his perfect-day. But I know that he will always be polite to everyone during future Q & As.