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

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

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

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

The Big Spring Clean

While on my hands and knees this past bright and warm Saturday I found myself stereotypically following through this season’s motions of cleaning. “Spring Cleaning” means a lot to me, as does “Back to School Shopping” and “Christmas Starts December 1st (or as soon as the poppies come off people’s jackets)” because having my surroundings be clean is important to me as an adult. It wasn’t important when I lived in my parents’ house as a teenager and would hardly clean my room, or when I lived in dorms and lived extremely alone, but now I still live alone, in an apartment that I take care of myself, and yet I find myself scrubbing the bathroom floor, sink, and toilet as if I owned the place.

I just kind of like to clean.

Its like doing a mind-hijacking yoga class or having just enough wine for a buzz; cleaning numbs the mind to other worries because I’m preoccupied with my end goal of cleanliness.

I tend to ignore cleaning when other things like deadlines come up, but when I do put my Bad Girls playlist on my speakers, open the windows, light some candles and put my hair in a bandana I feel as though I could clean right through the walls. The freshness of the apartment when it has just been cleaned is unparalleled.

I am looking forward to be in a space with multiple rooms for just this reason: more places to clean? Maybe, but more importantly more windows and windows to open.

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The changing of seasons has finally begun from cool winter into Spring and the windows in my apartment are open, my winter tights are being packed away, and florals are back. I almost bought flowers for my kitchen table this morning but refrained: in due time flowers wiil be back in my life, but for now I will rejoice in the windows being open.

I also love the new season because I feel inspired to cook again, and buy fun vegetables and make cocktails with lemonades, Spring provokes me to change things up in general, which I hope it does for everyone because it really is the time to. The changing seasons mean new weather, new holidays, new things in general. Some people are afraid of change, but I have learned to embrace it.

As I online shop, shop in person, cook, bake, establish new routines, and make new and exciting plans with people I try to remember that as much as I am planning to move forward this is the time now. There is a future coming, yes, but I can’t always plan for it, there has to be living in the moment too.

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“Live your truth” as a friend of mine told me last week, and I would venture to put “Live your truth, NOW” at the end of that.

So as I pour myself another glass of lemonade in a wine glass (Beyonce-inspired), open my window, and don a nice sweater for the weather, I am living my truth now, because that’s the only way to be.

xx Jess

Winter Term in Review: 2016

Having finished the first two out of the five major finals I have this term (with two more completed by the end of the week) I thought now would be the time to reflect. Academically I believe that I have melted into my own this term after the few finals I accomplished last term being handed in early January and having creative anchors I made it a goal this term to remain creatively engaged in academics this term nd have achieved that goal.
Having hit a groove with academics and a routine with reading this term also brought some challenges when it came to mental health and limitations. We made a joke in the Student Lounge not too long into this second, colder term that Graduate Schoool was essentially a Boot Camp for students to push their bodies, both mentally and physically, to the limits and then see how far they could gamble with pushing them a bit further. This Boot camp, when it came to working in fast-paced (but amazing) environments for my Production Assistantships, as well as travelling solo to England for the first time, all the while trying to mediate between mood swings and heavy boughts of anxiety left me a bit lost at sea in my own mental health.
Which was nonexistent, and not voluntarily so.
Luckilly I have a golden support system. I have calm and patient folk about, a few in particular, who listened and held me together and helped me hold myself together, so that I can safely say that my toolkit, my toolbox for life, that I usually have packed to the brim for everyday use, is going to go through a safe and pragmatic change this summer to prepare for my journey into dotoral studies.
Beyond mental health, my eyes have been opened by the world around me. This term has brought a cold, strange winter in two continents for me. It has brought new ideas for writing and new ideas for life. I value my life, my friends, in a shifted perspective that I am grateful for. Academia, it sems, is a good place to be situated when I want to challenge things that I would otherwise be disappointed with but not know how to go about making change.
Change can be made, but someone has to stand up for it.
So as I step into a few new Leadership roles I am grateful for the strong women in my life. My mom, who has shown me how to volunteer and be strong in a leadership position. Jen U, who has guided me through nearly seven years of non-profit work, programming, and all things between. Without naming everyone it has just been fairly obvious to me that I am made up of the strong women in my life, their ideas, their passions, and there is nothing like saying I AM NEXT and I CAN DO THIS to be motivated to be just like them.
And now, as I crack my window a small bit, listening to David Bowie on a cool Monday morning, thinking of the things I must get on doing, I look forward to a POWERFUL summer. Powerful, power, strength. My word for 2016 was strength in all forms of the word. Mental, physical, passionate strength. Is it fair to say that the summer can only bring good things? Maybe, or maybe it just brings opportunities to establish and explore what strength is for me.
This winter term, however, has me clinging to the strength that I do have and have developed with the help of others and my sheer willpower to continue on, because for that I am not only grateful, but proud of.
xx Jess

Exploration of Space | #32

Lukewarm. It looks luke warm, and it feels quiet and still. As if you were sitting in a tub full of bath water up to your chin, unmoving. Nothing but small ripples from your breath on the water, your blinking eyelashes, presumably, and the lukewarm vision and softness. But you’re not in a bath full of water, or anywhere warm, but in a room with pages from books spread across the floor, you kick a few as you walk in a circle, observing the quiet air, smelling the thick paint that looms from the edges of the room, everything is bright.
What does it smell like? What does it feel like?
Textures, there’s something about the texture of this space, of this room.
On Mondays I write about where I’ve been, a cool place, a memory of a place that is recent. I’ve been many very cool places just this weekend, and yet the only thing I feel comfortable writing about tonight is a place that exists in my head still, from my new play.
Big, dark wooden table, large, so large you can’t reach the other side when you lean over, no matter how tall you are. Pages cover the surface too, these are bigger, covered in handprints with thick paint, blues, emeralds, you run your hands over them and receive a big thud in your chest, like you’re about to speak infront of lots of people, as if you swallowed your tongue whole, that feeling comes with these pages in particular.
It smells like tea, like deeply steeped tea, long gone, still hot, boiling over somewhere close, and the air is thick with that too now, as if there’s tea brewing in the cans of paint somewhere in the back, thick, brewing heavy paint, filling up the room. Soon you’ll be covered in paint, goodbye then clean world.
But that would ruin the pages, the paint would never spill, or it would, but just on the sleeves of the books.
The books that are not present, the books that are lost or gone or somewhere else in another room.
This room does not sound. It does not sound like books, or like paint or like breathing or like filling up or anything. This room does not sound, but maybe it does, a bit like smoke, it sounds like billowing, soft, warm billowing somewhere in the back.
Always in the back, but nothing ever stays here.

Note: This is a riff off of a scene exploration I’ve been working on, as I continue to develop the location of this play, I am struggling with realism and linearity right now while I develop my characters and space, and so I thought setting it in a place that doesn’t really exist anywhere is nice for me. It exists for me, I’ve been here, and if you go far back enough in my blogs you might find where I explore my happy place, the place that only my brain knows, this room lives there too, but not close by. This isn’t a space that I’d like to spend much time in. This space is too heavy for my chest to handle.

xx Jess

The Eve | #22

There is nothing I love more than coming home after a jam-acked, busy day in the cold than to draw a bath.  What does that even mean exactly?  To “draw” a bath?  Anyways, I love to throw in some bubbles, light my favourite little candle and set u Sex and the City on a chair beside the tub, glass of wine in hand, and watch a few eisodes and forget the world around ,e.

I love getting out of the tub and hearing it drain while the last episode fades, my housecoat on, lighting a second candle beside my bed.  When that epiode is over I love to embrace the silence.  The hum of the fridge, the rush of cars outside.  I forget that I live alone sometimes and there’s nothing but me, just me.  So its nice to not have anything but me for a little, no hone, no computer, just a quiet house for a quiet me.

Some eole call these evenings pamper nights, I have been singing “Birthday Bath” to the tune of that “Birthday Sex” song that came out a long time ago.  “Don’t neeed no, candles or cake just you body to make your BIRTHDAY BATH!” the words are a bit different but the sentiment is the same:  I am relaxed, in my favourite state of mind and body:  alone, warm (but the air is cooling me down), wine, sex and the city, candles…It is hard to find something more serene than that for me.  After a brilliant day, with another coming u tomorrow.

Today was even more lovely because it was amplified by inspiration.  There isn’t anything better than finally, finally, after weeks of trying to write or come up with an idea or a start to a paper, than getting hit with a great idea mid show or mid conversation.  Both happened to me today, and although I wanted nothing more than to whip out my phone and email myself these thoughts in my head I sat and enjoyed the moment.  That brief inspiration solidified my great Birthday weekend, and moments before my 24th birthday I am reminded, again, about the cool life I am leading right now.

Life is cool.

xx Jess

 

 

Bits and Bobs and Pirelli | #20

I’ve been at this blog for 20 days and I haven’t had much time to just sit and blab, so hey!  Let’s blab!  First thing’s first: I need to grab something to eat or I might just keel over.  I am back, it has been ten minutes and I have eaten a snack of champions:  an avocado, a crumpet with Nutella, and a banana.  I know that sounds crazy, but trust me it was delicious and exactly what I needed.  I cleaned my apartment tonight and it feels so lovely, and I’ve just sat down to write to you all, its been a busy start to term.

 

But its been actually really good.  Late at night, when I’m walking home from the theatre, and I’m exhausted and pms-ing, I am grumpy and mad and too tired to function, and just want bed and don’t want to go back to school.  But, I do, in the mornings, and I smile and am so happy to be here.  So grateful to have this structure and support system around me.  I don’t think we acknowledge enough the people who support us, so thank you if I’ve leaned on you this week, you can lean on me anytime!

 

As for other bits and bobs, there’s a lot going on that I could talk about.  I could ramble on for an hour or three about the papers that I’m currently editing, because in the void of creativity that was my theatre company I have filled with academic papers about things that I love and I care about and are cool.  I am also in a writing workshop course for school where I should be working on my play, but as for right now that’s on the back burner until next weekend, where I’m going to dive in headfirst.

 

It is exactly (almost) three weeks until my trip to England for reading week.  I am hping to take a bit of reading, but mostly just my sense of adventure.

 

The one thing that inspired me to write this post was this link that I came across randomly on facebook about a month ago was Pireli’s calendar for this/next year, it doesn’t matter, but its this amazing photo article of influential women in the world today dressed in whatever they want, so some of them are naked or in their underwear or just in a power stance in their power suits being their powerful selves.  I clicked on this link tonight hoping to be inspired to write some feminist response to media, but instead its inspired me by way of strength.  Its inspired me to aspire to be a powerful woman in the power stance of my choosing.

 

Here’s the link:   http://pulptastic.com/pirelli-put-the-boobs-away-and-did-something-amazing/

 

This week seems to be moving at a glacial pace, so I want to internalize my own power stance, really focus on that, breathe into it, and mebrace it as I turn TWENTY FOUR this weekend.  As my new year begins, and I celebrate with great friends and family, I am reminded of all the things I have accomplished and done in my twenty four years so far on earth, and am confident that the next twenty four are only going to bring amazing things.

 

As busy or stressed that I get, I cannot forget the quality of my life, and how lucky I am, and I am just so happy.

 

xx Jess