Sunday, October 17, 2010

Woman in Red Dress

By Laura P. Valtorta

During a recent disaster evacuation drill at Stanford University, all went awry. Workers and students were supposed to stand outside the buildings, twenty feet away, between 10 and 10:30 a.m., marked by siren signals. The sirens failed to go off as scheduled. Still, the Stanford police managed to rally most people outside, and situate them in neat clusters with their groups -- physics department, law school, visitors center, the Cantor museum, etcetera.

Dante and I waited outside the Cantor museum studying the beautiful sculptures by Auguste Rodin, including the Gates of Hell. We waited 30 minutes for the drill to finish.

At 10:20, a woman in a red dress strode out of the Cantor museum. The guards looked at each other. "What happened?"

"She was inside." The guards shrugged their shoulders. This was the first disaster evacuation drill, and all over campus it had been a disaster. Foreign, non-English-speaking tourists refused to leave the non-denominational chapel. The sirens either failed to sound entirely or they were too soft to hear. Students remained inside the dorms.

Then there was that woman in the red dress, who might have been an employee of the Cantor museum. If there had been an actual earthquake or fire, she could have been killed. But there was no disaster. Instead, she illustrated a point. She pushed the boundaries and disobeyed the rules, either out of stubbornness or ignorance. She showed the system did not function well. During this drill, she was an auslander.

Why does disobedience exist? As an outsider myself, I can testify there is no choice involved. Outsiders are born challenging the rules, questioning authority, stretching the boundaries. Auslander writers, such as the great Stieg Larsson, create new realities, illustrate our unexpressed dreams, and blast aside stereotypes. The result is Lisbeth Salander -- the woman every intelligent woman wants to become.

My goal as an auslander writer is to create a vision of the future that no writer has expressed. My future world is inspired with hope -- it is a utopia as opposed to the dystopia described by such writers as Margaret Atwood. Being an outsider causes me pain and disaffection on a daily basis. Oftentimes I fail to understand the world around me because it seems to be so driven by fear. There must be a reason for my pain. Outside thinking pushes the human species forward. It helps us evolve.

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