I Lit a Fire With the Love You Left Behind

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My brain is buffering.  My thoughts are lagging.  I feel the pressure and weight of the world around me pressing into my face, like soft bricks, blow after blow, day after day, it seems that everyone is being beat down in some form or another, and my brain cannot keep up.  I read my social media timelines everyday, mostly absorbed in beautiful, supportive activism, or sharing of “devil’s advocate” posts, thoughts from every crevasse of the internet, and I scream to myself every morning why we have to negotiate everything.  Why we? Why us? Why now?

I know why, please don’t jump on this.

My brain is lagging and I need to emphasize this.  I cannot have any other thought than what I posted on Facebook earlier this month:  I am reaching out for the goodness, and offering it in return.  It seems as though giving goodness comes in short supply these days, and so we stick together.  Despite feeling tired, and half full right now, because of the world around me out of arm’s reach but also more strongly in my own communities right now I believe that is important now more than ever to give the goodness you can to those in your communities who need it.

We all work hard.  No one works harder these days, that isn’t a comparison.  But people do give and take more or the other, people are aware of the amount that they have to give, be honest, but give graciously, because the goodness is multiplied when you share.  And even within this, when you feel beat down, tired, share that too because once it leaves your body its less for you.

Shoulder the weight right now, shoulder the weight for someone, it is that time.

We live in such a selfish time.  Because we are all in it to gain happiness for ourselves, to find that perfect meaningful person, moment, project, that will give lasting change to the world.  We want to be remembered, but by whom?  If you are remembered for a lasting imprint in technology, who will remember you?  The people you worked with, the people you lifted and who lifted you to get there.

I was sitting at a wonderful colleague’s desk this week and while doing paperwork she was shuffling my coffee cup around the surface, trying to find a place to put it, and found one far away from me, when she laughed and as I finished handed it back.  Small, caring moments, that are full, and small, so so small, but memorable because of the weight taken and given, goodness found and appreciated.

There is no solution.  This isn’t just the new normal, people, and it is hard to think about.  But try to remember that you are not an island around here, we are an ocean of islands pinned to our spots together, so let’s lean on each other to get through.  And if its too much to talk or think or give right now, fine, but don’t cast shadows on those who search and give hope right now.

We sit together and drink coffee, and cry, and scream loudly while alone together, and clink glasses and run through the rain and take a risk crossing a street when its not safe and stay out too late drinking with friends so we’re not alone and we use our cane every night so even if we’re alone we are supported and strong.

We sit at tables and drink coffee across from each other quietly.

We sit at tables and drink coffee across from each other quietly.

xx Jess

Focused Networks for Support

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Mondays look pretty routine over here: I usually sit in on the First Year Lecture that I am TA-ing for, proceeded by an appointment or meeting, followed promptly by hours of reading and written responses.  Usually peppered in there is responding or sending emails for the handful of jobs (volunteer or paid) that I do on top of being a full time student.  Mix in a good serving of caffeine, free cheese, and a sprinkle of Netflix and there sits my Monday.

But today has been different.  Despite having no Lecture to sit in on (lucky undergrads and their reading weeks) but I had an upswing of other-than-school-work to do today.  Consulting phone calls, work/study emailing, an impromptu coffee with my best friend aside I spent a good chunk of my morning reflecting on the National Young Leaders Summit that I participated in this past weekend, which I suppose I helped organize, which was part of the reflection it iself.

Following up with the attendees who shaped my experience, contributors who deserve to be thanked (more than once, it seems, do I find myself writing “this would not have been remotely enjoyable without you” in so many messages today) and ultimately making notes moving forward has just taken up all of the thoughts I’ve had.  What can I say? I learned a lot about myself, a young lady who has very little interest in pursuing program development as a full time gig, but finds herself directly impacted by programs and program development constantly.

I just can’t help myself, I love it too much.

This is probably why I love TA-ing and planning lessons so much for my classrooms: I just love seeing a group come together from so many different interests and backgrounds and come away better and more connected.

Needless to say trying to establish a National Network might be a work in progress for the best of us, trying desperately to find a platform that is accessible and easy to use, but the concensus has been that listening to each other and learning from our experiences, despite being involved in very different career paths, has put us all in a better place moving forward in our professional lives.

Or I could just be talking about my own experience here I don’t know.

Needless to say the benefits are paramount in terms of meeting new people, especially in a time of my life that my struggle with graduate school, conferences, networking, and friendship all are directly correlated to my lack of vision.

My right eye, the little eye that could, is starting to let go of its strength, so I’ve got to find strength for it elsewhere.

So I seek my wonderful, strong blind community, and this Saturday rejuvenated that desire to seek the support of the people who know what its like to not literally see the whole picture but see the BIG picture.

So as my Monday progresses, and the dishes in my sink continue to sit and the laundry folded on my bed sits waiting, I round off this post to thank the people who support me, my friends, my family, my colleagues, and the connections I’ve made.  The definition of a network is not only people who can lead you to your future, but a group of people who will hold you up while you get there, or atleast that’s what it means to me, anyway.

Big hugs, cheers.

xx Jess

@BufferFestival 2016, #womenofyoutube , Visibility, and “Authenticity”

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This week was diagnosed with a sincere sense of confusion when it comes to the definition of what it means to be “original” and most prominently: authentic.  What does it mean to feel authenticity?  My good friend and peer Tony mentioned that authenticity is felt only in relation to something that is not authentic, to which I agree, but that doesn’t pinpoint the actual definition.

Which we all know. We know that feeling when something feels real.  Of course I am thinking about these definitions in the context of my PhD coursework, so we are thinking about this academically, in terms of social construction of the authentic, and when I had a conversation over a beer earlier this week I mentioned that if I were to hand one of my gender-based theory (Butler-if you’re interested) to my mom for example, she probably wouldn’t understand it (no offense mom it takes us a million years to work through Butler you don’t want to read her anyway she’s tucked in the basement boxes somewhere no worries promise I’ll go through those at Christmas, too!) and what is the point of defining authenticity and other things if they are not to inform the culture we exist in?

I attended BufferFestival this weekend, I had intended to go again on Sunday but a cold had kept me in bed longer than anticipated and duty (readings and marking) calls.  Buffer Festival is the only Youtube/Digital culture festival in the world that premieres Creators’ work on the big screen in a community-based structure, and this year introduced partnerships with CBC, Chris Hadfield, and so many more meaningful contributions to a community that was beneficial for everyone involved (learning, on both sides, even in the Creator’s Hall where I hope panelists learned from the audiences, as well).  It is a great example of people priveledged to be popular on the internet meeting their communities and hearing feedback.

Saturday afternoon I sat in the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, in a “real” theatre, watching twelve (ish I think) women speak about feminism on youtube, digital culture for women, and topics that they believe should be talked about more.  The conversation was flooded with personal frustrations and anecdotes about online culture that cultivates hate, but also cultivates authentic representations of woman-hood (“ladylike” videos).

Ah, authenticity, you never escaped me even when I thought you might have.

What does it mean to be authentic?  When becoming an activist, advocate, talking about issues, is authenticity important?

I would argue there’s something missing from authenticity, which doesn’t always just come with feeling “real” but as Tony said, you know it when you feel it beside something that isn’t authentic.

The women on the panel were authentic because I’ve been watching Youtube videos since my first eye surgery ten years ago, and I’ve watched a plethora, from many many many different, diverse, strange, and powerful/popular influencers, and there is a sincere aesthetic quality defining authentic and pulling them apart from the inauthentic—could it be the more curated/”fake” video?  No, because all videos are edited, curated, polished for the viewer, but there is an authenticity that isn’t the “raw” edit. (this can be explored even in blog form, which are supposedly uncut/raw pieces of influencers’ lives and strung together, but even that is curate.  They do not show their entire day, therefore lacking the “raw” and “real”-ness, most women on the panel mentioned regret that they do not turn the camera on when they are having down or mental illness days, in fear of showing their “raw” selves).

I would love to suggest that, coming back to activism, visibility is the only thing that is needed here.  The Women of Youtube panel talked a lot about disaibility and consent and how there are not enough videos being created or circulated on the internet about often forgotten/avoided topics, which is totally true, but there is a distinct and powerful shift from visibility and authenticity, in my opinion.

Many conversations with fellow activists and passionate people had over beers or ramen or seminar room tables all know what it means to “feel authentic” and know when authentiticty hits them it is the most powerful.

My argument here is empty for me, however, because I have no solution.  I have no “Five Steps To Creating An Authentic And Powerful Video For Feminism” (but that would be fabulous clickbait) but I can ask for a call to action.  Let us all think on this together.  This panel has ignited a wave of constant thought from me to engage with the online discourse that I love, and I want to start sharing these constantly with my networks.  More than I already do.  Vides of women making videos that are “authentic” and powerful and about the issues that need to be authentic and powerful, because at the end of the day and this week what I’ve come to know is that despite it being an elusive and silly word, authenticity creates change when combined with action.

In order to find authenticity, that feeling when you trust, that makes you believe, that empowers you to contribute to the conversation, to share, to do, and most importantly to think, we must try and identify the things that aren’t authentic, identify why, and try again.

So let’s think about it. Let’s write more blog posts, facebook statuses, papers, books, and let’s make videos and hashtags and let’s engage with the idea that being lady like is a sense of authenticity too, and the dynamics of being a woman are impotant to flesh out, to speak about, to interrogate, outside of a classroom, on the internet, in our lives, and the way to do that is to try.

xx Jess

Unlearning: Graduate School with a Disability

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Forget everything you’ve learned. Forget the routine you’ve sank into that was finally working.  Forget the cycle you got into in the four years of your first degree.  Forget easy to find books. Forget conversations that make sense.  Forget everythigng you’ve learned

 

Despite being smart, and driven, and talented, and kind, and fun, and resilient (whatever that means) I still struggle endlessly, every week, to navigate university.  University, and even further and specifically: Graduate School.

 

Graduate school is a learning curve for everyone from the amount of readings, deadlines, pressure to be successful, pressures in general, and not to mention the actual understanding of the content of said degree.  Then there’s presentations, social events, parties, networking, professional writing and conferences, work related to school, work not related to school, and then just personal life balance and self care in there too.  Graduate school in any area is difficult.

 

Now imagine that every time you opened a new PDF document for a reading for a class you had to learn how to navigate that document (if it is even in the right place or exists at all).  Imagine for every presentation you had to learn what the professor was expecting and also how to do this inspite of and in tandem with your disability.  Imagine having to unlearn every activity, at every moment, because that is the nature of Graduate work:  it is constantly changing.  In a world where my vision isn’t constant, where the way that I navigate learning changes from literally every piece of information task and moment to another I have to adapt whole-heartedly non-stop to every obstacle and then hope to succeed.

 

I remember in my first year, freshly blind, writing my first blog post about “jumping off the cliff.”  It was in reference to speaking in class, when I was terrified to give my opinion for the fear of it being wrong.  Now I’m always wrong and I don’t shut my mouth because that’s one way that I learn.  I jump off the cliff just walking down St. George st. (where I have almost been wrongfully hit by cars on multiple occaisions).  I jump off the cliff in preparation for every presentation (which I am doing this week for two) because they are always, constantly, different.

 

Tonight I sat down with my ipad to open a PDF document of the readings I had to do.  Readings that, admittedly, I’ve been having a lot of just pure and simple understanding problems (nothing to do with the bind thing) lately, and a PDF is not the chosen form of this text it is an anthology novel that the rest of my class has.  I went to open it, and after searching University of Toronto’s Accessibility Portal for half an hour, and then scrolling through the document I had already downloaded squinting trying to find Voltaire’s five pages that are required, and failing, I moved on to an e-text, which is accessible but small and needs a constant zoom and finger transition to make sure I can see the full page and even when I found those documents the system wouldn’t let me open it.  So I resigned to just doing a part of my readings from technology issues.  My reading time has gone up to 20 pages per hour people, this is progress.

 

And this happens to me every night. These aren’t chosen obstacles, I am constantly dealing with new things to worry about.

 

And I do complain, because I am entitled to it, and I try not to apologise for it, and I don’t do it every day.

 

But I am a good student and it is unfair that I have to struggle to access what I need, and creatively solve problems like how to present presentations that I can only do in two days that should be memorized and I cannot read off of cue cards, or reading a biography to introduce someone for a class but stutter because my vision craps out half way through.

 

Or the recent issues I’ve been having with research methodologies that pertain to my specific mediated view of my research, because of my literal obstruction in my eyes.  I cannot see the faces of my research subjects.  I cannot see the words on the microfilm.  What do I do? Who do I turn to?

 

I am a good student. This is unfair.  So what? So what?  I’m writing this because its something that I think about, and its unfair that I feel embarrassed for typing an explanation.  So what? So WHAT?  Being a student is a PRIVELEDGE.  Being a student is CHALLENGING already. Being a student TAKES TIME and EFFORT and MONEY.  It takes MENTAL ENERGY.  It also gives so much substance that none of us can explain.  But when you are fighting through foggy, unclear, half-assed vision—fighting—fighting—every day to just tred water like your peers… Well, what can I describe? How could I? So what?

 

Every day is an unlearning.  Every day I think I’ve got it.  I wake up and I think IT’S A MORNING DAY and I walk to school and out the door I trip up a stair or give the barista a loonie not a toonie and that’s before the schooling starts.  I walk into my classroom and I hide how terrified I might be and how embarrassed and frustrated I am that I have to constantly ask my small amount of students their names, but am so happy to be there.  These kids need to see a graduate student like me TAing a class about acting, about critical thought, challenging them.

 

I can challenge.  I can think critically.  I can teach.  I can demand and articulate and fight.

 

Graduate school hasn’t done this to me, but it has amplified it, it has brought it so boldly to my attention that I cannot ignore it and now it bubbles up through my work and emails after class about things I should’ve brought up in class and then into class and soon I won’t feel so weird saying “well from my blind perspective my experience of performances are different” because that’s the easiest part of my day, ironically.  I feel most authentic and powerful and strong when I can state, very proudly, that I can’t see everything and that is perfectly totally wonderfully brilliantly okay.

 

But the fight, which is never eneding, and has no solution, changes every day and I do it, because I have to.

 

xx Jess

Art

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Two bars of a song I’ve never heard before passes and the first thought I have is “I am craving a new world.”

This strikes me as a bit strange, but music moves me to think things sometimes as all art does.  Walking through art galleries, experiencing a powerful performance, or reading strong words by strong humans makes me—no, inspires me.  And not just inspiring me to write my own plays or novels or paint with my fingers or mind or whatever, but inspires me to continue to be dedicated to this world. To be alive, to strengthen my relationship with living.

We forget this sometimes.  We forget about the things that keep us alive, the things that reign us in and anchor us to the reality that we cherish and believe.  Those dark days, those days that are remarkably small and weak for us are the days that we can look towards the next and hope that something glimmers, that a bar of music inspires you to love the world around you for a few moments, or finding a photograph on tumblr that latches you into another world and helps you dive into life again.

Art is powerful, but only because we are responsible for wrapping our minds around the work and doing the alterations in this home, this life.  I am thirsting for a new world of dreamers and leaders and innovators.  This world exists, and is out there, but sometimes I have to take a break from it to remember its there.

I am tired of this world of awful humans coming out of the woodwork.  I’m tired of a world where people you thought you knew turn out to be assholes or liars, or people you cannot trust.  I trust that this world is pulsing with life, but also that it is consumed by waves of disbelief and pain.  How can we overcome this? How can we reach our hands across oceans or through barriers of ignorance to make the changes we want to see in a new world?

If you believe it, act it.  If you value it, stick to it.  And if you love it, work for it.

I think what resonates the most with me about art and its implications in the world around me is that it explores passion and care in ways that only the artist knows and understands fully, but invites others to experience the passion and love one feels.  I trust in art that there is honesty somewhere, that there is purpose for one person somewhere and if that is the lifeline that they need then that is enough.

Someone once told me they created art to live, that it saved them, that it anchored them back to purpose and passion, and for that one person I am grateful to art for roping them back in, and for keeping another heart beating for this world.

So as long as I am here I will appreciate the art that finds its way into my ears and brain, because there is something addictive to good, beautiful, powerful art.  It inspires me, it inspires me to keep moving forward, and to challenge myself to find representations of my own passion, care, and love in the work that I do.

xx Jess

Mini Break: Montreal in Mid-July

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Coming home from Montreal, on a train, brings back memories similar to coming home from Europe.  Maybe not the entire trip, but for sure coming home from a smaller trip like Ireland or Brighton, you leave the simple oasis of a city unfamiliar to your own and slowly slug back to reality.  For me, right now, as I start this post, I am listening to an audiobook and sipping a glass of red wine in a blissful air conditioned carriage, bumpy and bright, cool and calm.  It is less like Europe now I think, heading back to Toronto, but that is only because Toronto is now my home, and I do not feel bitter upon my return but feel…”recharged.” “Recharged” in parentheses because I still need a bit of a sleep, but my week is due to be productive and full, my mental state however feels recharged, so if there was a way to be half recharged then that is what I am by. By mid-August I hope to get back up to the green light to start everything all over again.

A few highlights from the trip would be wandering around Old Montreal with my good friends as I won’t be seeing one of them for a long time, and then entering a courtyard nirvana to have some sangria and poutine, and then eventually adventuring north to find some good bagels.  We never went out for breakfast but slept in (as it was vacation) and have a bagel with good juice and a small coffee, as well as guac and cream cheese, apples, bananas, it was basically just a lovely morning every day in an air conditioned, quiet, dark room before heading out into the heat.

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Saturday was rainy, which we only managed to get wet for five minutes total as we hopped from coffee shop to bar to hotel and back to dinner, finding beverages and snacks and most prominently wine, and ultimately ending the day off with some fireworks at the old port.  It was a cooler day, which was welcomed happily by two little intoxicated Ontarians all day.

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Sunday was warmer, and we set out in the quieter neighbourhoods to have coffee and wander the beautiful houses and streets before waiting in line at Schwartz’ Deli for some tasty sandwiches and, again, more importantly PICKLES.  We ate in a small park and ended up just finding more beers and ice cream before heading back to the train where we rode business class to have more space and a comfortable trip home to Toronto.

Travelling to Montreal is always a bit strange because it is like home but not, there is always something a bit different…not quiet, not challenging, I know enough French to get by and I am a nice enough person to be patient when we get lost, but there is something fun about being in an unfamiliar place that makes every moment, every uphill walk in the sweltering heat, every photograph, every laugh, every loud or quiet minute just a bit different than those that I remember in Toronto.  I can’t put my finger on it, but I will be back in November and again a few times next year for conferences and visiting good folks so if there is anything I took away from this trip is smiling, regardless of how I feel, to smile and to breathe in and remember there is a quiet moment in every minute.

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xx Jess

My Love Letter to Toronto

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It has been over a year since I moved to Toronto. My first few months here had admittedly been a few of the worst ones in recent memory. Being away from any family or friends had made my life “living for the weekend’s that I would head to my rehearsal weekends in Cambridge or to the beach with my family as opposed to the beautiful city where I was actually residing 90% of the time. The city was empty for me, lonely, big, and the times when friends would come and visit for the weekend or for a dinner would give it a short lived glimmer and then it would evaporate as soon as they would leave, leaving me to sulk alone in my gross, damp apartment.

Finally something clicked when the summer ended and I started school. I like being busy, and being busy in the city gave me structure to explore it and after being here and loving it for a few months, I have found myself a home.

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That isn’t entirely accurate, I think I’ve carved myself a home here, in my neighbourhood in the Annex where I’ve lived now the entirety of my existence in Toronto, and I love it. I love how close I am to the drugstores, to nice coffee, to cheap bookstores and the subway. I love that I can hop on the streetcar and find my favourite brunch spots, my favourite shoe shops, my favourite vegan Mexican food and everything else that I love about King/Queen West.

I love that my apartment fits me now, or I fit it, or maybe we are more like a well worn sweater…sometimes broken, sometimes too hot or to cold, but all of the time comfortable. All of the time.

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I love cooking and listening to podcasts and drinking on my balcony and inviting guests over to see my place. I am proud of my existence here now, and that is a superb feeling.

I love my bookshelf, soon to be spilling over into multiple as I expand my collection, and I love that I rotate through these to find quotations through my writing every week.

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I love the people I’ve met and the places that they take me, and I love the adventures I get up to be it on a bustling Thursday evening home from book club, Saturday morning at the markets, or quiet Sunday afternoons writing and drinking coffee. Meetings, drink nights, jazz music in Kensington market, tapas on King, sailing next to the CN Tower, subway trips up north to the CNIB, walking the malls a few times, walking the city a few times, Toronto suits me…or I suit Toronto, or maybe we’re like an old, well worn sweater, too.

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If you’re overwhelmed or against this city I challenge you to try it for a few months, et it sink in before judging it. It is busy and has very interesting and sometimes disgusting smells and people. There are too many places to get sushi (but the food here is incomparable to any other place I’ve been in its variety and goodness), and the public transit is unreliable and hot at best. But the thing about Toronto is is that it welcomes you, no matter who you are, and challenges you to adventure inside of it, even if that’s running across the city to get to a play on time, or a sit-in during the Pride Parade detours you on your way to work.

It is full of beautiful, powerful, and important surprises. Or it has for me, and I hope that everyone could give it a chance.

xx Jess

My Feminist Book Shelf (and the intimidation to have one)

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I’ve had a weird revelation lately. The past few months I’ve had an upswing interest in books by women. Actually, consciously, I’ve tried to only read books by women this year, starting in January, and I have cultivated my favourites, my important ones, the ones that I’ve hated, the list has grown of what I’d like to read, and something interesting happened when I finished Patti Smith’s Just Kids: I wanted to read what she had read, the women in her life that have influenced her, so that they could influence me.

At first this was a good goal. I wanted to ask all of my female role models what they have read and follow suit. I wanted to read the books that have inspired others so that I could feel the same inspiration, but after doing this a bit, and finding the list too huge, and overshadowing the books that I wanted to read, I had the realization that I’ve come to love now: I want to make my own book list of influencers.

And I don’t want anyone to think that they need to read anything to be inspired. “If you haven’t read this book by Elizabeth Gilbert you won’t know what its like to be inspired,” or “10 books every women HAS to read before they hit their thirties,” or “read this, it’ll for sure change your life.” Although all of those things are true, there are literally more books written by women that are fabulous than I could ever imagine. Most of which are not accessible to me due to my low vision, and all of which I want to read. What I’ve come to accept and be proud of is that I have the women that I’ve read about, the words, the stories, the imaginations, worlds, and lives that I’ve prodded through in my own way, come to in my own time, and I am so happy to have those words in my life.

I refuse to feel pressured, or left out, because I haven’t read everything that everyone else has, because the books that I do get to rea are a privilege at all, and every book goes into my own understanding of myself as a feminist, my world view, my pedagogy, and my beautiful ownership of my womanhood.

So I could write you a list of books that you SHOULD read, but the reality is…is that you shouldn’t read them. Those are MY books, the ones that have fallen luckily into MY lap, and I’m sure you have your own number that have fallen into yours. Don’t be intimidated by the amount of books others have read, and be grateful for the ones that have influenced you. Keep searching, read loads, and love the literature world you are creating for yourself.

xx Jess