Filling the Reserves

I wrote the final comprehensive exam for my PhD on September 9, 2017. Yesterday, October 27, I felt as though I had enough time to recover from the energy and stress it took to prepare and write the exam. It has been an untimely stressful period of my life, the last three months in particular, have felt quite draining in many ways, al ways, but just now I feel as though the parts of me that retain energy, not just sustain the energy needed to function, are slowly filling. Like an oxygen tank holding onto air for the return of a scuba dive, my energy too needed to hold on for the return to normal life post-comp, but unfortunately the energy, due to many different instances, was depleted, leaving my to swim back to the surface holding my breath.

How do I always find a way to use water as a metaphor for my mental state in some way here?

The filling of the energy took a lot out of me. It took spending less hours a day working on my research and being with other people. It took scheduling some serious reflection time, exploration of self and space, and lots of time recharging my physical body and eyes as I worked up the momentum to dive back in again.

The surface, it seems, was farther than expected. Working with little to no breaks is not sustainable, and so I had to take drastic measures to get back here.

I finally feel like I have enough to fight, to work, to enjoy the things that I love again. I’m about to embark on three very short but consecutive trips in November, and a fial one in December, to make this a very busy month, probably the busiest since I was in Europe five years ago for travelling. All have value, all have excitement, and all have the potential to knock the air mask off my face before I have a chance to take a breath.

Preparation, then, is essential for my energy reserves. They’re about 1/3 full now, and I have two weeks to feel as though I could make the trip and return, and I am confident that it will happen. Travel, both for my personal and professional lives, comes not with a price of exhaustion (although that does come) but moreso the price of leaving something—I mean to say that I love travel, intensely. I Igor not be enthralled with navigating an airport, but the adrenaline from landing in a new place, from stepping out of a door to a new world, recharges me on its own. Just looking forward to boarding my first flight connecting me to Calgary and then off to Kelowna for a dear friend’s wedding makes me giddy—The energy available, the possibilities, these are the qualities that bring me up.

So the anticipation has definitely helped me get to where I am now. Anticipation and hard, devoted work to taking care in many ways. And guess what? My work and life is better for it. I hate that I inserted “work” before “life” there, maybe I will rephrase: I’ve brought play, and joy, and rest, to the forefront of my life, and work takes a second to all three of those things. I’ve found myself more grounded in my work because I’m allowing myself space to be a human again, and for that I think I need to remember—for the future, for next term, where I will be grounded in more coursework and deadline-driven work, where I will have more pressures than just the work given to me (but above, beyond, and through it more will come). A busy year, 2018 is already turning out to be and we are still two months away.

So cheers to the next two months of absolute enthralling joy. To making good choices for our lives, and to being present and grounded in the things we choose to do.

xx Jess

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The Luxury of Choice When it Comes to Having Fucks to Give

This post was nt inspired by Tina Fey’s sheet-caking SNL incident and the backlash its receiving in the aftermath, but now that I’m reflecting more about what I want to talk about today it is the best way to introduce my thoughts.  How great it would be to have the option to just eat sheet cake as opposed to giving a fuck.

I read an instagram post the other day that had some sort of sentiment along the lines of “I can’t choose what thing to give a fuck about so I give no fucks at all.”  Now, if “giving a fuck” or “have no fucks to give” is a new concept for you, you may have not grown up with tumblr.com as a staple in your browser history, or you might use not care, either way this is a unique facet of slang that is reserved for a priviliedged few, who have the luxury of accessing all kinds of knowledge, all kinds of hardships and news, and then “choosing” which to care about.

I’ve been culprit of this, trust me, I am not innocent here, there have been many times where I’ve use threw my hands up in the air and yelled “I give zero fucks!” About whatever I was reading/listening to/talking about. That being said, there are certain things in all of our lives, I would like to assume, that we have no choice but to give fucks about.

What brought me to writing this today is that there is a new…passive complacency lately that I’ve noticed with my social media feed and friendships, where there are SO MANY shit things that we know about, and nobody has the energy to “giive a fuck” about all of them, really, and so we choose to eat sheet cake and watch Grey’s Anatomy with the blinds closed instead of facing them.

I am not suggesting that we all spend all of our energy thinking or facing such things, but we should all give a fuck.  

It all began yesterday, when I came up (again) with a blunder of inaccessibility in an acaedemic institution.  I’m sure you are surprised to hear this, considering universities and academia is SO ACCESSIBLE (ha..ha.ha) but I was so close, in a bathroom stall rereading an email/listening to a voicemail on a break from a teaching workshop Iwas attending, to just give up and not ask for the accommodations I need.  How much, in that moment (and still) do I wish I had the luxury to choose not to give a fuck about this, wow, wouldn’t it be great to just switch off my mind from worrying that I would be able to take the notes I need to to you know do my job and write my prospectus.

But no, friends, no, I don’t get the luxury to turn that off, because if I did then the inequality among the institution would prevent me from doing my job.  And if I am not researching, then what? What is my job then?  If I turn off this worry, then I don’t make a living.  That’s my choice.  Don’t give a fuck and shut down, or keep giving a fuck, draining the energy from my chakras i order to actually get access to do the job.  Where is the energy coming from?

Where is the energy coming from?

We are all drained.  We are, I know, from a horrific world of social media here we are constantly plagued by images, stories, headlines, with contradicting world views and disgusting news around the world, and even locally with people on our own profiles who make comments we are embarrassed about, ashamed of, and make us face things we wish we didn’t have to.  We can shut off the internet, we can close the web browsers, delete accounts.  We can spend hours binging NEtflix shows instead of reading, or writing, or thinking critically.  All of these things are so we don’t burn out completely, so the fires that burn our life goals and dreams don’t burn out too quickly, or at all.

But friends, that is a privilege.  It is a privilege to be able to shut off those thing, to stop giving a fuck for a while about one thing or another.  Some of us can’t turn off everything ever, things like racial prejudices, ableism (constantly, constantly) these things we cannot just take off, set aside, watch an episode of Sherlock with a milkshake and come back to later when we have more energy.  We have to fight somehow, through this muck, with energy that comes from…?

There’s no conclusion here. I’m just pointing out something that’s been bothering me, intensely.  And I’m not the kind of person who is always, constantly thinking critically about the world around me, I love turkey talk, I love sitting in a bar and drinking a glass of wine and talking about puppies as much as the next person, but I’m still fighting, it seems, I don’t get to not worry about very simple things that a lot of people take for granted not worrying about. I’m just tired, drained, burnt out, and asking…where is the energy coming from?

xx Jess

Having Opinions, Sticking to Them, and Then Letting Them Change

Well, its been a while, but I’ve been dealing with this a lot this year as I move into being more public about my personal and professional opinions about my work. In short, sticking to my opinions when I value things and believe things, and not be offended when people disagree or challenge them because how else is anyone’s mind ever going to be shaped or changed if we cannot have open dialogue about it? Respect, challenge, taking risks, being clever, and taking responsibility for my thoughts.My thoughts, things that I say to others, are all in formation, they are on their way to being…always. They aren’t stable, everything exists together in my brain, everything exists in the world alongside everything else, and I don’t think I’m always right.

But I’m in a line of work where I have to defend my ideas a lot, and so I get better at it, and so I think things that I think might be right. But also acknowledge that they are always changing.

“Why publish/share anything if my mind is always changing?”

Invite others to test you. Invite others to ask those questions, to push past the concrete and move into the why, the how. I’ve had so many brilliant people lately push me–harder, farther, make suggestions, ask, push, prod. It’s exhausting sometimes, I wonder about the sustainability of critical thinking, of conversation, and a while back my cohort and I discoveredd that videos of tiny dinosaurs riding pigs around a field helps, so does dancing in studios to slam poetry, rolling around on the floor laughing or sleeping, running around cities.

Time, balance, living life outside of conflicting ideas, smiling, thanking those and respecting those who take the care and time to think about what you say and think.

It’s beautiful. It’s hard. It’s excruciating. I always have this pang of absolute dread and awful terror when I know someone is reading what I think, they’re typing, they’ve said they disagree. But it pushes me past any idea I could get to on my own. Even when I don’t realize it, the rhizomatic efforts of life sink their teeth into me and I am gripped by being influenced by those around me.

I’ve done too much research on disability movements and supportive learning environments today and the above paragraph comes off a bit fluffy than I’d want. But here is to say thank you to those who hold my thoughts in their arms brains and hearts and throw something better back at me.

I hope to continue to chew on what others think for the rest of my life, and to consider, respectfully, what I can do to push those around me, too.

Xx Jess

Blind Academic Lady Life 1

I’ve been thinking for a while I’d start writing this blog again. Do I set up a deadline-driven schedule like I used to so it will actually happen? Probably not. I want to write again because lately I’ve been thinking a lot of things, and talking to people about a lot of things, that seem not…unique, to me, but unique enough to my situation that it might be good to write it down so I stop talking so much about it with my wonderful, patient friends, who have heard me struggle with things for a while.
I am blind.

Surprise!

I also am an emerging scholar and second year PhD student who is in the humanities.

I am not saying that its harder necessarily to be in the humanities and be blind, but I mean it is. It’s a unique kind of difficulty because no one in the administration expects me to get this far, and so the structures that are in place for both blind people in the humanities or blind graduate students are not based on someone in my situation.

It isn’t my first time carving out a path for myself, especially in the theatre, it feels like I’m constantly the “fr=fist” for a lot of people. I won’t write about those experiences right now, because I’m still a bit infuriated that I’m constantly teaching. Constantly teaching myself and the wonderful people around me (mostly) ways to even begin to innovate through this journey.

This came out really whine-y. I’m sorry. I didn’t want it to be this way.

Me me me, things are hard for me, blah blah blah, is not how I wanted this to go.

But for now there has to be explanations of my experience so others can take on some of the invisible work of just thinking. That’s been enough, actually, the past week has been me sitting around tables explaining, again, the easiest way for me to do research, and watching humans who’ve never had to do this work before ask for my advice and then do the work. That’s been a slow roll in my department, not for lack of wanting to but lack of knowing the resources available to them…and its nice, it really is, a little bit, to get a bit of the stres of f of my shoulders. That doesn’t mean the worry goes away, but atleast the idea of having to keep advocating on this one issue has lifted, a little.

It is so funny to me how comfortable I am talking about my blindness and my struggles with this fluctuating disability in a professional context. It informs my methodology, it informs my pedagogy, it informs my everyday introductions professionally and networking capabilities. It is constantly a teaching opportunity, and it is a constant state of stress and confidence; I am able to do all of these things with, because of, and despite my blindness. But the moment I want to socially engage, maybe romantically, I am terrified to disclose at all that I cannot see.

Why is it more socially acceptable to have a disability in my career but not in my romantic life?  

Does experiencing blindness somehow make me less of an attractive person? Most of my friends would say no, actually everyone I articulate this worry to says that. But they’re being supportive. I need someone to realistically agree with me. Some people do, or hint at agreeing, by saying “well if he cares about your disability then you don’t want to be with him anyway!” How well-mannered, so ttrue, and obviously if he isn’t into me then he shouldn’t come around, but that doesn’t change the absolute terror of telling someone that I cannot see their facial expressions across the table, co-pilot a road trip, ride bikes…but I can do a lot of other really sweet cool important things!

And I’m brilliant, or can be, so why isn’t this enough for me?

I’m actually not looking for advice, please don’t comment below and tell me how I should be empowered by my disability, this is my journey and I’m not exaggerating when everyone has told me I shouldn’t care: I know. I know that. It’s just not how my brain works. Something that some people forget is that this blindness is super new for me, I started dating, curating an identity, deciding who I wanted to be with sight. I could see the reflection in the mirror, apply eyeliner without having irritations, I could read print books and drive a car, so in the past ten years I’ve lost who I wanted to be, most of the dreams I’d been having since I was a young girl, and I’ve found beautiful new ones, but its caused me to become a very reserved dater and social engager.

I have amazing friends and colleagues who make me feel better than most people I can imagine dating, for example at a conference last weekend with people who are huge in my academic community I disclosed left right and centre and refused to apologize for not recognizing someone, making jokes, answering questions, smiling when issues of access were brought up and when they weren’t, taking note, observing, laughing, it was a beautiful experience to feel almost-comfortable to be myself, which gives me hope in a world where everyone assumes (outside of the community) that I will have a hard time. I feel more comfortable introducing myself as a blind academic to an editor than I do to a prospective man-friend.

Social situations, work, life, is hard. As I write this though I am dancing in my bright, clean apartment in Toronto, preparing for a long rehearsal for my fringe show, after preparing for a work trip and drinking coffee while listening to a feminist podcast, and am happy. I am happy resituating my life to not to chase after things but to stand in the middle of a river Arwen style and catch things that come rushing by me. I’m in the last half of my twenties, I’m chugging up a mountain of academia with fun colleagues, I do impactful and meaningful research and work for my communities, and I enjoy what I do. How lucky is that? Despite the thousands of things bubbling under the surface, things are okay.

xx Jess

Creativity & Stress/Risk

This was going to be a part of my Emerging Scholar Series and then I thought of how I identified when thinking about this topic and I do identify as an artist the most. I am extremely overwhelmed with the possibilities right now to the point where I will go out on a limb and say that I am in an unsafe zone of pushing my limits of attention, being spread thin, because there is just so much out there at this time of year.

What do I mean? I mean all of the speaker series, panels, conferences, journals, plays, exhibitions, parties, launches, classes, workshops, problems with the world, advocacy opportunities, opportunities to create art, submission deadlines for art, submission deadlines for conferences, literall anything and everything socially, for me to handle. I feel like I should be attending every talk about disability and performance, and every one not, and then also submit to things because when will this happen again? I exist ina field that is so…versatile, so fragile, so changing, that I worry that if I don’t attend to it all now will I lose my chance?

I know the answer is HELL NO because well this is my career now, but what bugs me is that this is a pivotol moment in my field right now, huge shifts are happening across the country, and I want to be there and present in them, but it is not the time in my coursework to be taking large chunks of my life to travel across the city and country to visit them (in this exact March month moment, trust me February was everywhere for that specific reason) but being involved with everything is NOT the same as having an opinion, having critical thought, about those things. I believe in the review, the blog post reflections, the conversations, that happen after the experiences that shape our field instead of always having to be there. Isn’t there a position within disability theory that addresses presence and slowness, that allows room for disabled artists to not alwas be physically present but their thoughts are still rpesent in the conversation?

I am struggling, I guess then, to merge my two realms this month: the realm of creating art that is meaningful and bright and strong, that engages with what is happening in the world and my life, and then also creating academic engagement that is meaningful and trying and challenging, that embodies new ideas and that knocks me down from blowing my mind. One is clearly heavier than the other and then I have to make sacrifices and not attend events because I also need to be creating art and then also, you know, washing dishes and sleeping.

How is this job sustainable in any real way?

I ask only because I love it so passionately and feel the privilege of getting to be in an environment where every part of my being is tested and lifted and bright, but I want to be safe. I want this to be sustainable, but I am running myself thing as Bilbo Baggins would say “like butter spread thin over too mch bread.”

I recently saw a new magazine about art creation with this title, and almost bought the twenty dollar art magazine because of it. Creativity and Stress, I added the Risk, because let’s be real..is the balance not a risk?

xx Jess

Emerging Scholar Series: When the Edits Come In

I have so many thoughts this week and have been letting them settle down in my core before writing about them, but something that has just happened to me needs to be articulated. I am an emerging scholar, which is evident from my previous posts about my anxieties surrounding writing and what it means to have my work consumed by other people. My work is going to be outside of my head, and that is inviting people to ask questions, to be concerned about wording, and I sometimes forget that first drafts of anything, ever, are awful.

I am currently taking a course on Academic Writing at the Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies, and have been reassured multiple times that sentence structure is never most people’s strong suits. So, while taking a second look through my my recently edited article that’s deadline is looming I got defensive and nervous about having to edit so many sentences…They are confusing? Really? I’m so sorry. But then I finished reading the notes, sat back, and took a deep breath. I’ve decided to write a loving kindness meditation for the editing process because there is a beautiful relationship between editor and author that happens, but someties it feels a bit harsh, even though we both just care about the work.

I am safe,
I am happy,
I am confident that my work is important,
It takes a village to cultivate clear meaning,
I am smart and confident,
I am calm.

Short reminders that my work is valuable, that editing anxiety is normal, and that I am okay.

xx Jess

I Hope To Stay For Good

I get asked often if I would move to Montreal, or consider continuing research (after the next….hopefully six years of my degree) in London or the UK where disability studies and performance studies are easily converging, where interesting art and performances are being developed with innovative tactics and my answer will probably be no. I want to go, and experience them, take notes, learn, ask questions, contribute, but they are asking because there is little traction in a large way here in Toronto, and that is why I need to stay.

It is also why I need to make more art. I am working on a conference paper and looking up a website of a considerably further along artist-academic in Montreal who ahas an entire page of art pieces that combine her art and research, and I want that now. I do not have time for much more right now, but as I move forward I need something that gives me the opportunity to create art that is engaged and charged with my research.

Where do I find this? Do I find it in a Working Group that I am on the verge of creating? Do I find this in an already existing group? Do I find it within myself? My friends? My colleagues? Peers? Theatres? At this point I am lost, maybe because my time is taken up by the multitude of things that a first year PhD student is drowning in: coursework, comprehensive exam preparations, finalizing (ish) a thesis proposal (ish), finding a supervisor (check!), committee (in process…ish), and for me a lot more out of degree commitments that are wonderful but little give me much presence in art.

I want to be creative and charged. I want to be illuminated and have something to create for, to do, something to do it for. Its there, its at the brim of my visual horizon (which isn’t farther than a metre really), but just out of reach. For now I will be patient, but whatever I do I know it will be here, in Toronto, developing grounding roots in a community that needs it.

xx Jess

MY Virtual March

I’ve recently been told that I’m “such an academic,” but at the same time pursuing a PhD is old news and doesn’t make me different, both comments came from men, both comments came in the last twenty-four hours, and I truly have to believe that both comments were not maliciously made, but nevertheless I’ve taken both to heart. I’m “such” an academic? Because I think critically about the world around me? Is that a bad thing? I don’t let it disrupt my life to an extent that bars me from having social relationships, but I let it work into my world in a way that activates those around m. I hope to provoke thought from my friends and family, so no, I actually don’t think that because Harry Potter becomes more dark throughout the series it is a bad thing, because I do think that the series follows the cognitive level of its characters and after the hope is really gone then yes the darkness gets let in in their lives and for us as well, it reflects growth, it reflects CRITICAL THOUGHT.

Friends of mine, over pints of beer, bitch about spending thousands of dollars and thousands of hours worrying and pursuing degrees that will “probably not” get us jobs, but then I sit down today and read about marching, about critical thought, and reflect on the differences in my thoughts and those around me who haven’t had the critical experience of theory and literature, or theory and culture, and I consider myself worthy and lucky to have spent thousands of hours pondering and worshipping and seeking more answers from the world around me. How lucky am I that I could have that? It means that I have the toolkit to look at the world and see bigger meaning, and that is a privilege.

As for pursuing my PhD, it is a big deal. No one in my family has stepped a single foot in graduate school let alone thought about doctoral work. No one. No one has had the opportunity, and that is a privilege. No one in my family also has a disability that prevents them from easily accessing school in the same way that I do and so yes, this is a big deal to me. It is a big deal to my family, but because of that it is a big thing for me. I am the one who brings the critical thought, the ideas, the support, the innovation, the big city vibes, the activism, and no I am not the only one in my family with these thoughts but because it is a priority for me it allows them to have those priorities too. This allows me to have meaningful conversations and make good change in lives that otherwise don’t have the opportunities I have had.

So yes, to both thoughts, I am SUCH an academic and it means SO much to me to be able to think critically, because its giving me the platform to live a full life. To support people that I care about, to hold them up when they need to, and to be an activist every single day in every breath that I have.

Today we MARCH because WOMAN are PEOPLE. WOMEN can DECIDE what to do with their LIVES because THEY ARE STRONG, BEAUTIFUL HUMANS. WE STAND TOGETHER.

We love. We care. And we do what we can to make the world a better place.

xx Jess

Emerging Scholar Syndrome

A short burst today as I am in the midst of writing a conference paper, but I had to just write this down and throw it into the universe. As a baby academic I still feel (and wonder if it will ever go away) mildly anxious while preparing to share my own research with others. I hate the thought of writing it, I postponed for two hours this morning claiming I was too tired to focus (when really I wanted to listen to the Q on CBC instead), and then got up begrudgingly to make coffee and sit down to write a paper about something I love. The moment I finished the first paragraph (thirty seconds ago) I realized that the build-up to writing the thing is what scares me, not the thing itself. I love the thing, I love my research, I love the conferences I present at and I love the idea that people are going to listen to me and ask questions. It’s the thoughts that are scary, not the thing itself. I forget this prior to writing everything I will share, and just wish there were some constructive ways to combat that? Any thoughts from the peanut gallery? Because there comes a time in one’s academic life when they realize this is what they are going to be doing forever, and so there has to be a way to stop the anxiety of writing because this is what I love to do.

This is it, I’ve made it, but why is it so hard to start?
xx Jess