Unlearning: Graduate School with a Disability


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



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



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.


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.


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.


xx Jess

My Love Letter to Toronto


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.


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.

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.


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.


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)


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

V.W.: Poetry


Sometimes I feel you watching me
Like an understanding sky
Waiting for movement, for change,
Or for nothing.
When I find myself watching you
I’m waiting for the rain to fall,
Your clouds to pass, to part from barricading your thoughts,
To feel your dreams envelope me,
And sometimes I can see nothing
But a kind brightness on a rare passage

Calgary Vibes


Good morning friends,

I am writing to you this morning from my sweet “hotel” aka dorm room on the University of Calgary campus in Calgary, Alberta! What a cool way to start this post, because really I’ve been wanting to write something but things don’t always get done. There’s yoga to be had and a final mammoth paper to finish, but today I am in Calgary. The non-humid, delicious coffee-totalling city that, despite having only seen literally forty minutes of campus life, is wonderful.

It could be because Ontario is currently in a huge heat wave nonsensical flood of humidity and there is nothing but fresh, albeit mildly wet, air here, it could be because this trip feels like a cool academic retreat/holiday somewhere new, and it could also be because I slept for the first time in a few days last night being so jetlagged and so breathing fresh cool air with my coffee after being well rested realy has just hit me in a wonderful way, a way of wonder, if you will.

I am in Calgary for Congress, and more directly the Canadian Association of Theatre Research conference, which begins tomorrow and follows on until Tuesday afternoon, to which I will then take a bus to Banff and spend nearly two days loving my life near mountains and good friends. Ah, the academic’s life, full of spending the only morning you have off in Calgary editing, transcribing and reading, and also planning on doing more reading in the evening, and then planning out your budget for the journals/books that will come upon registration for these events.

Jenny (my room mate and I’d like to say good friend from the Drama Centre at UofT) dropped the book bomb yesterday: every academic publisher brings their books to congress. We had a good twenty-five minute conversation about where I’d put these books and we finished on I’d have another carry on for the trip home full of them. I will update you later.

This is so exciting for me, to be on my first “lurk and learn” in the professional academic world, and I have some great birds who’ve taken me under their wings to introduce me to the people and show me the ropes, its een a good day settling in here.

The next five days might be exhausting, and long, but I am positive they are going to be full of beautiful and fascinating panels and conversations had by people researching important things for our culture. On the brink of sounding sentimental I hope that this begins my life long presence at conferences such as these; where the people are smart and nice and welcoming, the food is present, and the books are abundant. Oh, and maybe the ideas that are generated are brilliant, as well.

xx Jess

On Finding Creativity


I was walking around campus yesterday amongst the beautiful tree’s and the beautiful people and sunshine, and looked up at a fully blue sky with a stark white cloud, and smiled. I am in love with life again.

It hasn’t been a problem, really, that I lost the love for life. But I lost some true and important things in my life. I have always been confident in my ability to triumph through hardship, but this term has tested me in terms of my academic worth and merit, and that has subsided. I belong here.

Creatively I’ve been in a mental block since last November, struggling to be creative or fun or anything that I love about creating things. Something shifted a few weekends ago when I brought out some paint and just did it. I’ve always wanted to paint, and now I want to buy a bigger scale paitning situation and get to it. I am going to. I started working on creative fiction again, and poetry, and reading. Oh I’m in this amazing book club with these amazing, brilliant, interesting women. I am so proud of the people in my life for what they are doing, and I am proud of myself.

I am proud of hard work, people! It doesn’t matter if you do forty five minutes or twelve hours of hard work a day, I am so proud of it. Every single human in my life is spending time doing hard work lately, and I try and appreciate those moments and humans as much as I can because everyone deserves to feel proud and appreciated for the work they do. Wow. I just, love, hearing about everything everyone is doing. Sure its inspirational for my own creative, academic, social, and mental work…but it is just so nice to see people working hard and thriving.

Things are hard working but not all positive in the fekkledfudge camp. I try hard every day to be motivated but despite loving things again things are hard. I have listened to the same music over and over, I’ve watched the same shows over and over, I’ve been working through things one block of time at a time in order to get through this moment of hard work for myself, but I am…thriving? Surviving? Are you?

How do you get through it all? I think I’m interested in hearing about how others get through things. Do you set aside time to play piano on a sunny day between meetings and errands? Do you watch your favourite film on repeat (one of my oldies)? Do you play video games or drink copious amounts of coffee? I could tell you all of my coping mechanisms, I’ve been known to create lists for blogs advising on how I get through and how YOU COULD TOO! But in reality I don’t really want to share today, I was just writing in my physical journal and thought maybe it’d be nice to hear how other people get through. I like to put BB cream on and go outside. I like being outside. This is a new development of living in Toronto, where do people like to go outside?

Do I expect a response? No. Do I hope you think about your own coping mechanisms? Absolutely. Knowing what works for you is essential during times of hard work. And if you’re one of those people who constantly does hard work (everyone? Yes?) then you deserve to know more than everyone else. Do you eat ice cream at midnight because that’s your only lone time? I envy your metabolism and love of cold treats, and also send you kudos because you deserve that ice cream.

We all deserve a break in whatever way we wish.

xx Jess