WAIT (Short Fiction)

Trigger warning: Mentions of abuse and violence

You wait. You’ll wait for seconds to tick by, for seconds to turn to minutes and minutes to turn into hours.

You’ll wait for her. Your eyes stare at the door with hopeful optimism.

She’s coming home. She promised.

It’s only been two months, but it feels like an eternity balanced precariously in the crevices of time and space.

You long to hold her in your arms again, embrace wide and outstretched.

A plethora of memories resurface. Memories of shared laughter, forbidden kisses and missed opportunities.

You’ve spilled your darkest secrets into her soul, spoken honestly about the scars marred on your body, whole and imperfect.

You miss the way she murmured into your hair, the way she wrapped her arm around your smaller frame, the way she wiped away your tears with her fingertips.

You remember the way passerby stared at you and her, holding hands as the sun dipped below the horizon and the ocean breeze blew your hair into your face. The patronizing gazes, the curious fascination.

You wish people wouldn’t stare, the whispered under the breath comments make you cringe. The ones said out loud are even worse.

“God bless you.”

“Excuse me? Can I pray for you?”

To your girlfriend, “Does she need anything?” As if you don’t exist.

You sit in a sports wheelchair, wheels coasting along the grainy asphalt and she walks beside you, her limp barely noticeable but present, as you find a place on the beach and watch the sunset together. The vibrant color of a sunset streaked in shades of yellow, orange and pink will soon herald in the night sky and vast expanse of twinkling stars.

She asked you once, “Have you ever wished upon a star?”

“No,” you reply. “But I used to make wishes with pennies and throw them into fountains. I used to dream a lot, too. I had a lot of vibrant dreams about escaping. Not who I was, but where I came from, who I was with.”

That night, she squeezed your hand a little tighter, pulled you closer and you felt safe and loved in her embrace, closing your eyes and reveling in that feeling, in the moment.

Sitting in the kitchen of your small apartment, your mind drifts, unsurprisingly, to thoughts of her once more and you find yourself wishing.

When is too late to wish upon a star?

You wheel out of the kitchen and into the living room, moving close to a window and you stare in rapt fascination at the night sky, the twinkling stars a satisfying reassurance.

You don’t want to pray, but you want to send a steady stream of thoughts out into the universe. Closing your eyes, you take a deep, cleansing breath.

You exhale a whispered plea, “Come home soon. I miss you. I love you.”

You push back on lingering thoughts of worry and fear. It’s only a few more days, a few more days, a few more days.

You repeat those words like a mantra.

Until then, you’ll wait.

You wait.

 

 

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FADE IN: Writing My Own Narrative

When I was ten years old, I wanted to be Alex Mack. Alex Mack was the fictional lead heroine in Nickelodeon’s The Secret World of Alex Mack played by actress Larisa Oleynik. The main plot focused on Alex, a teenage girl who acquired special powers after being involved in a truck accident where a chemical known as GC-161 was spilled on her. She could morph into a puddle of liquid, shoot electricity from her fingers and move objects with her mind. Although the show itself had nothing to do with disability, it was the first show that introduced me to the concept of female empowerment and it felt refreshing to watch a young woman hold her own in the face of danger.

So much of the media we consume today reinforces harmful, negative stereotypes about disability and how disabled people are perceived. The most recent controversy is the upcoming film Me Before You, which not only cast non-disabled actor Sam Claflin but also reinforces the damaging stereotype also seen in Million Dollar Baby. It’s better off to be dead than disabled.

Stereotypes about disability spread like rampant wildfire in mainstream media from those feel good stories on social media where some kind hearted person will take a disabled person to the prom to other types of inspirational “overcoming” narratives that further reinforce fanciful ableist notions about portrayals of disability.

So where’s MY narrative?

Before discovering The Secret World of Alex Mack, I felt alone. I felt isolated from the media, which praised and honored the non-disabled body, which set it on a pedestal in all its perfect able glory. There was no one like me. I sat in front of the television bombarded by images that were of little importance to me, images that reinforced the notion that my body and all of its imperfections did not belong in a society where all types of people from all different backgrounds and walks of life exist.

I felt invisible.

Perhaps that is why years later when I thought of that feeling, I created a paraplegic character whose power is invisibility. Her arms are covered in colorful tattoos and her hair is streaked with shades of dark purple. She has a girlfriend and is working towards a PhD in Sociology. I created this character, like several others before and after, to fill a void in my own narrative.

After Alex Mack, there were other female characters I gravitated towards: Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Tru Davies (Eliza Dushku) and Audrey Parker (Emily Rose) to name a few. Each character had come in at a pivotal time in my life when I most needed that character to help me shape my understanding of the world, to construct meaning from images I see on screen. Though none of these characters are visibly disabled, watching them on screen guided me on the path to forging my own identity and writing my own narrative. Watching them influenced my abilities to create fierce, multi-dimensional disabled females who save the world (a lot – thanks, Buffy!).

Though my own narrative still remains unfinished and I still don’t always see the types of strong females on screen that are reflected in my writing, I believe that the more disabled women writers share their narratives, the more we have the power to override the stories written on our bodies for us by non-disabled people. We can take that power back and tell our own stories.

And maybe, someday, we can find our own ways to save the world.

A lot.

 

 

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Seeking Haven in Feminist Disability Studies

Haven Season 5 Promo

As a television viewer, what draws me to a particular TV series is my ability to identify with the characters on a personal level. Keeping an audience emotionally riveted is especially important in a television series because the viewer(s) should want to come back week after week and watch the series to find out what happens next. Does the heroine of the story find her love interest before it’s too late? In what ways does the villain trick the protagonist? Does something happen to a supporting character that alters the course of the hero’s or antagonist’s goals? For dramatic television in particular, it’s not uncommon to be left with a cliffhanger. Many of these questions and facets of dramatic television are what make it so palpable and real for me, piquing my interest and making me want to know more and not wait another week to find out what happens. I believe this type of long-form storytelling not only has ample opportunities in which stories about characters with disabilities can be told, but it is also through a few of my favorite television series that I have been forced to ask questions and ponder my disability identity.

When reading “Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory” by Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, she points out how feminist studies and disability studies can help one another by integrating viewpoints that could enrich understanding what disability studies means from a feminist perspective. However, as she has studied and observed, disability is often left out of this conversation entirely. What struck me the most was that she examines feminist theory through a disability studies lens, particularly when rooted in identity. “Feminism increasingly recognizes that no woman is ever only a woman, that she occupies multiple subject positions and is claimed by several cultural identity categories… Disability is one such identity vector that disrupts the unity of the classification woman and challenges the primacy of gender as a monolithic category” (Garland-Thomson, 335). Yet, the cultural and sociological stereotypes of disabled women still persist, which causes turmoil for disabled women who are on a never-ending journey to claim their own personal identity. It is vital for these women to find and claim their identity or else they risk becoming faceless, voiceless and powerless over circumstances that would otherwise be afforded to most non-disabled women.

Based on the Stephen King novella The Colorado Kid, the SyFy TV series Haven is a supernatural drama that takes place in the fictional town of Haven, Maine. It is a series developed and created for television by Sam Ernst and Jim Dunn. Many people in Haven possess supernatural abilities believing themselves to be cursed. They are called Troubled and their supernatural abilities are known as Troubles. On a mission to track down a serial killer, FBI agent Audrey Parker (played by Emily Rose) goes to the town of Haven, expecting to find him there. She finds him dead, but his death doesn’t stop her from leaving. Instead, she finds herself inexplicably drawn to the town and the people in it as she seems to possess an inherent ability to help those who are Troubled while being immune to the Troubles themselves.

While there, she meets local police detective, Nathan Wuornos (played by Lucas Bryant), and a smuggler/crook with a heart of gold, Duke Crocker (played by Eric Balfour). Nathan’s Trouble is known clinically as idiopathic neuropathy or the inability to feel anything including pain while Duke’s Trouble is that if he kills someone who is Troubled, he ends the Troubles in that person’s family for good. Audrey meets several others including Vince and Dave, two brothers who run Haven’s local newspaper, The Haven Herald. Though none of the characters have disabilities per se, these Troubled townsfolk are seen as misfits, odd, “freaks,” part of the “Other” that doesn’t really seem to belong. These symbolisms can also be applied to the way people with disabilities are seen in society as well as people belonging to other minority groups or to multiple marginalized identity groups. But what I can relate most to in the series circles back to the intersection of feminist studies and disability studies: the concept of identity.

As the series progresses, Audrey is in constant search of her identity. She’s an orphan and knows nothing about her family. She constantly asks questions such as “Who am I? Where do I come from?” How does she find herself when the people she comes to know and trust keep secrets from her? How does she help the Troubled when she can’t even find out answers about herself? Yet, what she discovers is not exactly what she set out to find and takes her completely by surprise. Still, she attempts to hold onto the identity that she knows (or thinks she knows): Audrey Parker.

Now concluding in the second part of its fifth and final season, the question of identity still looms over this character. A woman who has so much to still uncover about her identity, but in a completely different manner than when the series first aired back in 2010. I recognize that identity both as a social construction and as a personal journey is a complicated venture to undertake. It is advantageous that television in the supernatural/paranormal/fantasy and science fiction genres can ask and mold these complex questions, grappling with them on an entirely new, unique level.

Now that television has merged onto the Internet, it’s time to challenge this notion of identity in the creative decisions that are made by executives, producers and writers where women and disabled people can see themselves represented on-screen.

REFERENCES
Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. The Disability Studies Reader. Ed. Lennard J. Davis. 4th ed. New York: Routledge, 2013. 325-45. Print.

 

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CASTING CALL: A Little More Representation

About a year ago, I was out grocery shopping at Sprouts when a smiling, animated woman pushing her shopping cart came up to me and said, “Oh, it’s so nice to see that you’re out!” I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I replied with a polite “thank you” and moved on. So I’m not allowed to go out and live my life? I thought. How unsettling. This is only one of many examples of situations I have faced as a person with a disability when I’m doing everyday activities in my community.

It struck me as strange because I’ve always gone out and done such activities. Because I’m human. Activities an able-bodied person would do while not being looked at as achieving anything extraordinary. Going grocery shopping is far from extraordinary, but when talking amongst fellow peers and advocates with disabilities, similar stories are shared.

Another memory that stands out in my mind occurred when I was sixteen years old. An avid fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I remember watching an episode in the show’s seventh season where a large group of potential slayers were fighting tooth and nail against that season’s “Big Bad.” Although there were a number of young women fighting in the scenes, not one of them had a physical disability.

“Hey, Mom,” I said, pointing to the television screen. “Wouldn’t it be cool if I was in that scene?” I imagined what it might be like for a person with a disability to be a vampire slayer. The thought had occurred to me on many occasions, not because I wanted to be an actress, but because I wanted to see a character like me (bonus points if the actress was a wheelchair user, too!) in such a well-known show with a cult following. However, Buffy was and still is a powerful television series with strong feminist underpinnings amongst the vast mass media landscape.

As an aspiring television writer and disability rights advocate, I feel the insatiable need to write about characters with disabilities in my scripts because disability representation in the media remains disparagingly underrepresented. But I also realize that it isn’t just about me writing those scripts and getting my perspective out there. It’s also about casting. If there are disability specific roles in a script, then actors with disabilities should be portraying them. Even if the roles aren’t disability specific, actors with disabilities should still be given the opportunity to play those roles.

Notable actors and actresses who have disabilities and who portray or have portrayed characters with disabilities include R.J. Mitte (Breaking Bad), Marlee Matlin (Switched At Birth), Mat Fraser (American Horror Story), Chris Burke (Life Goes On) and Geri Jewell (The Facts of Life, Deadwood) to name a few.

People with disabilities represent the largest minority group (because anyone, at any point, can acquire a disability at any time in their life); however, they are still poorly represented within mainstream media. While there have been efforts made to change this, there’s still a LONG way to go. It’s still far too common to see an able-bodied actor portraying a character with a disability, only to receive an Oscar or a Golden Globe for their performance. Most recently, the winners of Best Performance by an Actor AND Actress in a Motion Picture (Drama) went to Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) and Julianne Moore (Still Alice). Both portrayed characters with disabilities, yet the actors themselves are not disabled.

Actress and disability advocate Teal Sherer created the web series My Gimpy Life, which offers a comedic view of her own experiences as an actress with a disability in Hollywood. In a 2013 NPR interview, she said, “If we lose an opportunity to audition, then we lose an opportunity to move forward in our career.” The comedy is smart and engaging, shedding light on experiences that many wheelchair users, myself included, can relate to.

In May 2005, the Screen Actors Guild conducted a case study entitled “The Employment of Performers with Disabilities in the Entertainment Industry.” Participants of this study were asked to describe the three biggest obstacles for performers with disabilities in getting an acting job. Those obstacles were: 1.) Only being considered for disability-specific roles 2.) General lack of acting jobs 3.) Obtaining an audition. Though the study was done in 2005, I believe many of the same issues still hold true today and it’s almost ten years later.

So what can be done to shift perceptions? Professional unions such as the Writers with Disabilities Committee (part of the Writers Guild of America) and the Performers with Disabilities Committee (part of the Screen Actors Guild) are working towards changing this, but a lot of ground still remains unpaved.

Whether performing, writing for television or creating a film, all of these artistic endeavors involve some degree of collaboration. Someday I’d like to see a television show or web series that is written, directed and led by innovative women with disabilities. I’d love to see a wonderful actress portray a role in a television series or film that wasn’t written as something disability specific, but as just another role. I hope to see more actors, writers, directors, editors and cinematographers with disabilities make up the norm of the fabric of Hollywood, not just be the rare exception.

Maybe, if more individuals with disabilities were represented both in front of and behind the camera, going grocery shopping wouldn’t seem like such an exceptional feat of perseverance. It would just be an ordinary occurrence.

To quote the late Australian disability advocate, writer and comedian Stella Young, “Disability doesn’t make you exceptional. But questioning what you think you know about it does.”

REFERENCES:

Bates, Karen G. “Actors With Disabilities In Big Roles? ‘We Don’t Have A Chance'” NPR. NPR, 4 Oct. 2013. Web. 23 Jan. 2015.

Raynor, Ph.D, Olivia, and Katharine Hayward, Ph.D, MPH. The Employment of Performers with Disabilities in the Entertainment Industry. Los Angeles: n.p., May 2005. PDF.

“Stella Young: I’m Not Your Inspiration, Thank You Very Much.” YouTube. YouTube, 9 June 2014. Web. 23 Jan. 2015.

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My Heroine’s Journey: How I Found My Tru Calling

At the tender age of seven, I experienced a profound spiritual crisis. Desperate for an answer to my predicament, I went to the rabbi because I believed he would give me a suitable answer. Why? I asked him with piqued curiosity. Why did God make me disabled?

Though I accepted the answers and guidance he provided me with, I continuously battled with my identity as a person with a disability. In elementary school, there were moments where I wished I could run around on the blacktop and play in the sandbox like my able-bodied peers and friends. They experienced a sense of freedom as they ran around, fell and got back up again, an experience I was wholly unfamiliar with.

However, in third grade, a nascent spark of creativity arose in me as I declared to my parents that I wanted to become a writer. Already a voracious reader, writing in my Spottie Dottie notebook became an exciting adventure in wordplay and imagination. I could write about anything – regardless of disability. Finally… my own sense of freedom! The world was my canvas, a canvas I intended to fill with as many words as possible. In addition to frenzied journal scribbling and writing short stories and one-act plays, television was what further ignited my curiosity and vivid desires when I discovered Nickelodeon’s The Secret World of Alex Mack. But it wasn’t until many, many years later as a college student at UC Berkeley when I had another profound revelation: television had changed my life. One television series in particular.

Originally titled Heroine, the supernatural television drama series Tru Calling debuted on FOX on October 30th, 2003, but was cancelled prematurely and without any resolution in April 2005 during the middle of its second season. This series follows a headstrong and fiercely intelligent young woman named Tru Davies (played by Eliza Dushku) who takes a job at the city morgue after her internship at a hospital falls through. During her first night shift, one of the dead bodies asks for her help. Her day rewinds and she must figure out how to save that person from an untimely death. Though she is not always successful, she remains persistent yet also empathetic and determined in her quest. Additionally, she struggles to keep her dysfunctional family together including her cocaine-addicted sister, Meredith (played by Jessica Collins), and her always-in-a-bind poker playing little brother, Harrison (played by Shawn Reaves). So, day in and day out, she basically has the weight of the world on her shoulders.

Though Tru does not have a disability, I instantly fell in love with this character. I began to view her supernatural ability as a kind of disability, which could either help or hinder her. On an even larger scale, the incessant calls of “help me” or “save me” made me reflect on my own life and fluctuating struggles of dependence vs. independence. As a person living with cerebral palsy, I have accepted that I will need some form of physical help for my entire life, but there’s another battle simultaneously brewing inside of me as well: When is the right time to ask for help and when do I complete the task entirely on my own? This loaded question proves to be an intricate one I am still learning to balance just as Tru struggled to accept the fact that some people she tried to save did not readily accept help from her. However, more than anything, I especially relate to Tru’s never-ending quest of attempting to maintain balance and a sense of normalcy in her life, which may not be accepted by others around her.

In a previous blog post, I discussed the social model of disability, which states that various stigmas, attitudes and systemic barriers created by society are more disabling than the disability itself. Society perpetuates an image of disability that distinctly contrasts how it should actually be represented. Within this facet of disability studies, I began to think further about the complexities of feminist disability studies and how it relates to the TV series I hold so close to my heart.

In the publication “Re-shaping, Re-thinking, Re-defining: Feminist Disability Studies” by English professor Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, she discusses the standpoint theory, “which recognizes the immediacy and complexity of physical existence. Emphasizing the multiplicity of women’s identities, histories and bodies, this theory asserts that individual situations structure the subjectivity from which particular women speak and perceive” (17). This particular theory only re-emphasized the importance of my own identity and existence, of continuously discovering who I am through the various situations I perceive and experience. Furthermore, it reminded me of Tru’s character, her quest for identity, the obstacles she’s had to face when saving someone’s life and how she reacts to the situations she faces daily.

Midway through the first season of the series, we are introduced to a new character, Jack Harper (played by Jason Priestley), who becomes the primary antagonist and acts as a foil. While Tru believes those that ask her for help should live, Jack believes they should stay dead. Thus, an epic battle between them ensues. At the end of one episode in the second season as Tru attempts to balance medical school classes with her job at the morgue, he threateningly tells her, “This med school thing is a nice dream, but you can’t have both worlds. As long as you do what you do, you don’t belong in there.”

There have been many people in my life who have “represented” Jack Harper and given me variations of a similar message. “You’ll never be able to walk again.” “You shouldn’t go into Honors English.” “Maybe Berkeley isn’t the right place for you.” The undertone of each of these messages is all the same… GIVE UP.

But, like Tru and her overwhelming and steadfast yearning to help others, I, too, intend on moving forward, pushing through each obstacle that crosses my path and dealing with it accordingly. It is through the character of Tru Davies that I have carved out my own calling of sorts, shaping my own destiny and disability self-identity. And, finally, it is because of Tru’s character that I now fully embrace what it means to be a heroine.

WORKS CITED

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. “Re-shaping, Re-thinking, Re-defining: Feminist Disability Studies.” (2001): 1-30. Center for Women Policy Studies. 2001. Web. 7 Sept. 2011.

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Write Through It: The Powerful Influence of Fanfiction

Last weekend, I attended San Diego Comic Con on Friday and Saturday. Unfortunately, there was no Haven panel this year due to production/filming schedules since the show got picked up for a double episode order, but there was a pretty awesome Haven autograph signing I went to on Saturday thanks to several messages from awesome fans on Facebook and Twitter telling me to go. The Community panel was on Thursday, so I did not get to go to that either, but there were still plenty of things at Comic Con to keep me busy and occupied.

I was not able to attend the Orphan Black panel last year, so it was a real treat to experience the Orphan Black panel with my friend Lexi this year. While waiting for the Orphan Black panel in Room 6A, one of the other panels we saw was for Outlander, a new Starz television series based on the books by Diana Gabaldon. Though I have not read any of Diana Gabaldon’s books, I am familiar with her stance against fanfiction. This prompted an interesting conversation between myself, a Screenwriting graduate student and disability advocate, and Lexi, an undergraduate fan studies scholar at California State University, Monterey Bay. I told her that I don’t agree with Diana’s stance on fanfiction, though I have tried to understand certain viewpoints of various authors and screenwriters who have an apparent dislike for fanfiction. It was this conversation that sparked the idea for this post and made me reflect on my own journey as a fanfiction writer, an aspiring television writer and the person I am today.

As a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I first dabbled in Buffy fanfiction at least a year or two before I knew what fanfiction was or that this particular writer-ly pursuit had a home on the Internet. At the age of 15, I used to scribble bits of Buffy fanfiction in notebooks and bring it to a local writers group, where it was read and critiqued by adults who had little familiarity with the show. That was okay at the time, but I wanted something more and soon discovered that there were websites on the Internet to post such stories. I was mostly a lurker at the time and came across a wonderful author’s story about Dawn Summers, my favorite Buffy character. Yes! I thought excitedly. Someone enjoys Michelle Trachtenberg’s (the actress who portrays her) work as much as I do! I signed up for the website within the year and began writing and posting stories and interacting with fans. My favorite series Tru Calling was airing at the time and the majority of my fanfiction has been focused on that show. When news of Tru Calling’s cancellation came out, a dedicated group of fans, myself included, banded together to create a virtual season 3 of the series in order to demonstrate our love for the show and hopefully give fans everywhere our own sort of closure. Though this incredible project was discontinued due to time constraints and real life commitments, I learned a lot from it and ventured off to continue writing more fanfiction of my own.

But it wasn’t until 2009 or 2010 when I began to think about disability portrayal in fanfiction. I’ve never written fanfiction for particularly huge fanbases (with the exception of Buffy), so other television shows, movies and books such as Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and even Harry Potter certainly have fans writing disability-centric stories. Though I have included characters with disabilities in my fanfiction stories, particularly those for Tru Calling and Haven, I never intended to write the “token disabled character” as a source of “inspiration.” It is fine line to walk (roll?) between due to the overwhelming presence of the “overcoming narrative” and constant bombardment of media images unabashedly proclaiming people with disabilities as sources of inspiration simply because they have completed a task that a person without a disability can easily accomplish without question. While people with disabilities may take a different path in order to achieve their goals and dreams, it should not be considered “special” or “amazing.” Because at the end of the day, talented people with disabilities are just people whose work should not be celebrated on the basis of their disability or chronic illness, but because of their talents themselves. It is something I constantly have to remind myself as a fanfiction writer and aspiring television writer that the character and her worldview and obstacles and achievements come first, not the disability.

In a TED talk by Australian comedian Stella Young, who uses a wheelchair, she notes the various media images we see of people with disabilities matched with so-called “inspirational” quotes as “inspiration porn.” She says that the purpose of these images is objectification in which disabled people are objectified by non-disabled people for sole purposes of “inspiration” and “motivation.” Other comedians with disabilities such as Josh Blue and Maysoon Zayid also discuss their disabilities in their comedy routines, but they don’t do it to be an “inspiration” to others. So how does this affect the wonderful world of fandom and fanfiction that exists on the Internet?

In the field of disability studies, there are two different “models” of disability. For the purpose of this blog post, I chose to focus on the social model of disability. The social model of disability states that negative attitudes, stigmas and various systemic barriers about disability created by society are, in fact, more disabling than the disability itself. Society’s view of disability perpetuates a completely different image of disability than what it actually is and should be.

I believe the social model of disability can be challenged. Through fanfiction and other artistic creations, fans both with and without disabilities, have the ability to change preconceived notions and shift perceptions about creating characters with disabilities –  both visible and invisible – and including those with various types of chronic illnesses.

Someday, I hope that people come to view fictional characters with disabilities represented in film, television and online media not as people who are “special” or “extraordinary” or defined by their disability, but rather just as they are… as people.

 

 

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Television Made Me Who I Am

I am currently in the midst of my thesis semester of graduate school. While a thesis alone is an ambitious and often times overwhelming endeavor, I am also enrolled in Episodic Television Drama Writing. It is a course in which the final product is a spec script (or sample episode of an existing television drama series. Since one of my main aspirations is to someday write at least one television drama series, I started thinking about all of the ways television has impacted my life from childhood, to adolescence and into young adulthood.

I grew up in Orange County, California (no, I do not know any of the Real Housewives), where I thrived off of 90’s television and scribbling the latest adventures of my elementary and middle school years in a Spottie Dottie notebook from the Sanrio store. Born with spastic cerebral palsy, I saw life and perceived experiences from the rolling wheels of my wheelchair and walker. I became a voracious reader and avid writer from the age of nine. Like many children who grew up in the 90’s, I eagerly consumed Babysitter’s Club and Nancy Drew books and did not miss a single episode of Nickelodeon’s The Secret World of Alex Mack. In fact, it was The Secret World of Alex Mack that was the spark of inspiration leading to my desires to become a television writer. A wish from The Starlight Foundation, an organization that grants “wishes” to children with disabilities, granted me the opportunity to visit the set of the show and meet the cast. I even filmed a scene in the final episode of the series and it is definitely one of the most memorable experiences of my childhood.

In middle school, I spent hours in the library reading books about dogs and wolves. At the time, I thought I wanted to be an animal trainer, specifically working with dogs on television and film sets in the entertainment industry. This desire was in part inspired by my black German Shepherd Alex (named after Alex Mack, the lead female character of my favorite childhood TV series) and though I did not pursue that aspect, my interest in the entertainment industry still remained. During 8th grade, I discovered a TV series on the Disney Channel called So Weird, a show about a teenage girl who investigates paranormal phenomenon while on a tour bus with her family because her mother is a professional singer. It was then that my writing style began to change and my short stories became darker, involving more mystery and supernatural aspects.

When I entered high school, I discovered fan fiction (stories of movies, TV shows, comic books, etc. written by fans), which has impacted not only what I write but the way I write as well. I become a fan of such series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Tru Calling and Charmed, quickly immersing myself in the online communities for these series. I discovered there were other fans out there like me who were writing and creating fan fiction, fan art and talking about the shows on discussion boards. Online communities for TV series, films, novels and comic books known as “fandoms” has greatly influenced my perception of the world around me and challenged me to write outside of my comfort zone.

Fandom can be a wonderful place for like-minded individuals to congregate. Social media has also helped fandom grow, surpassing the printed fan magazines and e-zines of years prior. Now, fans are able to have a more active voice than ever before because they are able to directly respond to what they watch on TV or on the Internet. I am happy to say that I am one of those fans.

As a television viewer, particularly during high school and college, I noticed my preference for supernatural strong girl television shows or certain shows with strong female leads or co-leads. Medium, the supernatural NBC/CBS series starring Patricia Arquette, became a favorite of mine and was the first show I wrote a spec script for in 2009. Yet, due in part to my personal experiences and my minor in Disability Studies, I began to notice the paltry amount of accurate portrayals of disability on television.

Often times, if a character is canonically disabled, actors who portray such roles do not have disabilities themselves. Kevin McHale’s character Artie on Glee is one such example as well as Jason Ritter’s character Kevin on Joan of Arcadia. While I mean no disrespect to the actors who’ve portrayed these characters, it would be wonderful to see characters with disabilities, both visible and invisible, have a larger role in the mainstream media. Shows like Breaking Bad and Switched At Birth have made noticeable strides in this area, but there’s still a long way to go.

Whatever I’m writing – scripts, parts of a novel or even fan fiction – I try to write about disability portrayal in the best possible way that I can. A few of my graduate school screenplays have characters with disabilities and my television spec scripts for both Medium and Elementary have “guest” characters with disabilities as well.

Television has impacted me and has made me who I am, so I’m going to respond to what I am watching in the only way that I know how: writing.

 

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