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 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.


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


I’ve decided that hearts are human filters
they suck in the tension
and worry
and grief, loneliness, pain,
and they eminate love
like trees, that filter our air,
like humidifers
that also filter our air,
although the heart doesn’t breathe for us
it breathes in
takes in the dust
and offers nothing but warmth and love back.

When I’m surrounded by others’ tension, others’ stress,
I breathe in, and allow my own heart to try
to purify their dust,
and offer
warmth, compassion, and love

xx Jess

I Lit a Fire With the Love You Left Behind

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

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”

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