NPR’s Juana Summers talks with artist Kindra Neely about her first graphic novel, Numb to This: Memoir of a Mass Shooting.
JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
For artist and author Kindra Neely, serenity is found in a part of the Umpqua National Forest.
KINDRA NEELY: There’s this steep little ravine, but then you’re, like, right on the edge of the river. There was this huge rock cut out on the opposite side that when the sunlight hit it, it was so beautiful. He just had this really nice shine about it. And the water was still, like, insanely crisp and cool.
SUMMERS: It’s one of the places where she liked to draw, to draw inspiration from her work.
NEELY: What I love about drawing is that it can do so many things mentally for you. When I do things like comics, especially early in their production, it’s more of a puzzle to figure out because you’re trying to tell a story in the best way, and how can you make that characters and background work for you?
SUMMERS: And in her first graphic novel, “Numb To This,” the puzzle that Kindra Neely is trying to solve is her own. Neely is a survivor of the October 2015 mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Nine people were killed and eight injured that day. In her book, Neely not only tells the story of the shooting, but also what it’s like to work to heal from trauma even as a steady stream of mass shootings in the United States continues.
I spoke with Neely a few days after the seventh anniversary of filming. And a note – our conversation includes a discussion of suicide. I started by asking Neely how she was doing.
NEELY: I’m much better than I thought. There were definitely a few awkward moments with the anniversary. But it’s been seven years, and I’ve definitely learned the skills I think I need to not outgrow that, but live with it in a way that’s, like, still functional.
SUMMERS: You know, there’s a million things about this book that I want to tell you about. But one of the things that jumped out at me was how you wrote about feeling violated after a national newspaper published a photo of you hugging your friend Josh after the shooting. And it strikes me that this happened seven years ago. And now you and I are having this conversation. So I guess I want to ask you, what can we do best as journalists? What could have gone better at that time for you?
NEELY: After a lot of thinking and also listening to the journalists who were there that day, I think the answer is both, and how do we take care of our journalists and also how do we take care of the people they are, you know, talking to? Because there were several people there that day who I understand were somehow new to the field and received no care afterwards. They received no debriefing. And they weren’t really educated on how to approach this stuff in a sensitive and caring way. I think the best thing is kind of the golden rule of like, hey, if you were in this situation, would you want someone to talk to you like you talk to them?
SUMMERS: One of the themes that keeps coming up in your book is – there are these scenes where you’re inundated with text messages and alerts every time there’s another mass shooting in this country – the shooting the Pulse nightclub in Orlando; filming a music festival in Las Vegas; Parkland, Florida. And when I look at the pages of the book like you illustrated, you’re just surrounded by all these tweets and messages and alerts. And it looks chaotic. But I want to ask you, what does it do for you? How is?
NEELY: It’s very chaotic when it happens, and it can be very overwhelming. I think now – in the book, I – it was a little more chaotic just because I wasn’t dealing with my feelings very well. And now that I have more tools, it still hurts. I mean, Uvalde in particular really felt like the wind had cut me off. It’s not always like that with everyone. And I kind of take precautions now just so I don’t get overwhelmed by it.
I think I was lucky, not to have a lot of resources, to be able to afford constant counseling, than the free resources that I had access to – I was very lucky with the people who I spoke to who were very specific. It’s just acknowledging when I’m feeling this and telling myself, oh, it’s okay to feel bad. These are things you should feel bad about. And that helps because then you’re processing the emotion, and you’re not just holding it in and letting it fester and get worse.
SUMMERS: You wrote openly about those struggles in the book, as well as your suicide attempt. And I notice at the end of your book you list a number of resources, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is 988, and others. What would you say to someone who may have been through something similar or someone who may be struggling with thoughts of ending their life?
NEELY: I think I would tell them that I don’t necessarily know if it’s better. I still have these thoughts. And that’s OK because I have ways to deal with them now. It’s not – you’re not a bad person to have those thoughts. And–but there’s a lot of people, people that you’d probably be really surprised at, that would be so upset if you weren’t there. And there were so many moments that I’m so glad I didn’t miss. And I just can’t express the joy you’ll feel in the moments when you realize you didn’t miss them later.
SUMMERS: In the book, you write about when you and some friends came to Washington and went to the March for Our Lives rally on the National Mall. And you quote one of the speakers who said, “This march is not the culmination; it’s the beginning “. So, Kindra, I want to ask you, what comes next?
NEELY: I think a lot of work. A lot of work, but it is important work. It is worthwhile work, not just with gun control measures. I think people tend to say you can’t really care outside of your own community; there’s, like, a certain, you know, bandwidth of compassion that people are capable of. But I don’t think that’s true. I think people are capable of a lot of love and that we can work together to make things better for everyone in this country.
SUMMERS: You and your book, with the idea that listening is a wonderful act of love, it takes patience and humility. And that’s a very nice thought. And I would just like to add also that sharing your story so that others can listen sometimes takes a lot of courage. So I would just like to thank you for sharing yours with us.
NELY: Thank you very much.
SUMMERS: It’s Kindra Neely. Her new graphic novel is “Numb To This”. Kindra, thanks for being here.
NEELY: Thank you very much for inviting me.
SUMMERS: If you or someone you know is in crisis, call or text 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Just those three numbers – 9-8-8.
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