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

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

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

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 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

Integrity and Kindness

After attending an emerging artists event put on by the Youth Advocacy Council for Theatre Ontario I have been thinking a lot about Integrity within my work both academic, personal, and working-wise. As young “millennial” humans we are constantly asked to make sacrifices in order to get ahead (pay thousands of dollars for a post-secondary education, work 40+ hours/week-have a social life-work out every day-be environmentally conscious-care about everything and anything political-be hilarious-know how to do makeup-be in an amazing committed relationship-be kind-etc.-etc.) and it is funny to me to think that if there is one thing that is essentially the easiest thing to do is to have Integrity with every decision you make, and most of us do.
We have been criticised for pursuing careers and degrees in creative fields that we enjoy as opposed to the most pragmatic or money-making paths, and we fight back by continuing to pursue what we love.
I saw this beautiful post on a friend’s timeline yesterday about body-shaming, and how your body waits your entire life to love it and be kind to it, and that just stuck with me. I say that I am a kind person, and yet I am so hard on myself about being fit, about looking like the girls on Tumblr, about being smart (easily) and acing every test, and about my community impact and what I “should” be doing for my peers. I have been in many therapist’s offices where they chide on about the “inner critic” and the “should” that we tell ourselves, but those “should” come from somewhere, they are not just invented out of nowhere.
When I write off a list of what millennials have to worry about I wonder about Integrity to the causes that we do believe in, and taking a stand past just sharing a facebook post or using a hashtag, but taking action instead of just circulating the conversation (no matter how beneficial that circulation can be!) but actively pursuing, making change, with our actions.
An actress at the Emerging Artists event made a comment that every ticket we buy for a performance is essentially casting our “vote” and donating to a cause, and so if it is important to you to see more diverse theatre than buy the tickets to those shows instead of something else. I think this is an interesting way to look at your own Integrity when it comes to everything: put your money behind your beliefs. This could also apply, in my opinion, to the way you live your life.
If I bring back my example of my body and how hard I am on it, I imagine myself looking at my best friends or my sister and saying the things that I tell myself when I look into the mirror and am horrified; I would never treat the ones I love the way that I treat myself. This is a thought process of the past for me, as I have spent this year trying to be more compassionate to my body and my habits, and working on being strong in my conviction to be kind to all humans, myself included. If I wish to see diverse theatre, and I wish to care about the future of the theatre community in terms of diversity and accessibility, and can continue to be true-to-my-beliefs there, then I trust myself that it can transfer to other parts of my life, too.
All of these thoughts have sprouted from amazing conversations I’ve had the past few days with influential women in my life (Rebecca Nicole Sarah Gloria Erin Amy Tita) who know how important it is to have female friendships, to have kindness in your heart towards all people including yourself, and who are dedicated to holding action and change in their own hands let it be for their community, their own career, their bodies, their hearts, or others. The women in my life amaze me daily because they struggle just like me with hard things like Integrity and self compassion, and not only do I feel like I am not alone but that there is real change happening here.
I’d like to leave off this post with Hope. I believe ther eis hope for a new generation of humans who are ready to acknowledge their faults and their hardships and smile and work hard to make change. I have hope for the women in my life who are all building their own empires and being Goddesses and making it happen for themselves, “It” being whatever they damn want, because that’s what we do, we do what we want because our parents and communities have worked hard for us to have the opportunity to do so. I am thankful for the things my mom and dad had to do for me to go to swimming lessons (despite heavy anxiety of going to them) and what my grandparents had to work hard to do to provide even more opportunities, and I promise to work just as hard to make them proud, but also to continue to work on this Community—the greater community of women and humans and friendships and diversities and cities and social media’s and everything else, because that is something we can do: do. Do things to make change in your own life, in your friends’ and families’ lives, in your community, on your timelines, small changes inspire bigger ones and it starts with being kind to yourself and trusting that you will work hard to make those changes.
xx Jess