Realizations about Inspiration
So I’m talking to the girlfriend last night about Jorja Fox. This isn’t an uncommon occurrence. After all, I’m a rather obsessive personality and when I obsess it can go to crazy fangirl levels. I overthink and overthink and overthink. And then realize I’m a crazy person. And then the cycle begins again.
But last night, I had an epiphany and it was a really interesting one.
I was about 15 when ER debuted. Growing up, we didn’t watch a lot of TV in my house but by the time ER rolled around, we were watching more shows together. ER was one of them. And ER was actually one of the first shows that influenced me in terms of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I watched Carol Hathaway and thought “I could do that” and then of course, I was always told that girls didn’t have to be nurses they could be doctors and I was like “But, I want to be a nurse!” For the record, it was much later in life when I realized that my desire to become the profession of my favorite characters had nothing to do with wanting to be a nurse or a doctor or a lawyer or whatever, it had everything to do with my desire to write characters in those professions. But I digress.
In the third season, so that would have been my senior year in high school, a new character was introduced. She was cute and brash, a little socially awkward. She liked baseball. And she stood up for Jeanie, who by that time was pretty much my favorite on the show. If you never watched, or don’t remember the storyline, Jeanie was HIV positive. Her husband had an affair and then passed the virus on to her. She fought tooth and nail to keep her job, and right alongside of her was this intern named Maggie Doyle.
No, this is not a Maggie Doyle appreciation post. Although I am sure I could write one. So keep with me here.
I was raised in a family of activists. When I was a kid my mother took a job with a disability rights group. She sat us down and told us that there was a chance she might be getting arrested at protests and such. Were we okay with that? (Um, yes!) Sidenote: my mother was one of those escorted out of the McCain campaign offices in 2008 when the disability protest shut things down. When I was a kid, my mom made sure I understood that people with AIDS and HIV were just like me. And dammit, people who were gay were just like me too. So watching this play out on screen, at the same time that my high school district was embroiled in one of the earliest fights in the country over the foundation of the GSAs changed me more than I realized.
So here I am, watching Maggie. Maggie was a lesbian. She was out. She fought tooth and nail to be recognized in the workplace and she was an unwavering ally to Jeanie. Watching this, my young and impressionable self, a young and impressionable self who was also starting to realize her own attraction to women, was transfixed. I didn’t follow actors really. I didn’t know who Jorja Fox was. But I started noticing, especially after I went to college, that I’d seek out the episodes with her in them. I wanted Maggie. Maggie was how I wanted to be. Not what, but how. When I came out as bisexual (partly thanks to my attraction to Gillian Anderson) one of the reasons I clung to Maggie was because there was an out woman on TV. I didn’t care what her sexuality was, she was out. That mattered to me. And when she was faced with things like her own harassment issues at the hospital, how she stood up for herself has been lost in the annals of TV history. Maggie Doyle might have been one of the single most important characters in TV, especially for young women of my generation. We were still navigating a much more difficult world full of sexual harassment and the idea that if we stood up for ourselves, we were only shooting our careers in the foot. Maggie knew what she was risking, and she did it anyway. As she said, “Self respect’s a bitch.”
And yes, it is.
So I’m sitting there last night, watching her first episode of ER, and watching the Jeanie storyline start to come into play. And as I watch Weaver figure out that Jeanie is HIV positive and stands by her, I start to think about some of my first big storylines.
Some of my most formative writing inspiration came from storylines just like that one. (I won’t go into the fandom side of it now, that’s for another blog post and another day.) The inspiration, the idea that HIV could be a powerful and meaningful story for a wide crowd, is most likely why I feel, still that Shadows in the Spotlight will have broad appeal. I didn’t realize it until last night and this morning, that ER of all shows had set me on a path to writing beloved characters with HIV, and beloved kick-ass lesbians who aren’t afraid to stand up for their friends.
It’s kind of funny, when you really sit back and start to think about inspiration and where it all comes from. That a show I stopped watching because of the whole Carol Has Twins storyline also inspired what has become the defining project of the last ten years for me.