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

Mini Break: Montreal in Mid-July

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

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

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

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

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

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xx Jess

My Love Letter to Toronto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xx Jess

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

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