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

Art

Two bars of a song I’ve never heard before passes and the first thought I have is “I am craving a new world.”

This strikes me as a bit strange, but music moves me to think things sometimes as all art does.  Walking through art galleries, experiencing a powerful performance, or reading strong words by strong humans makes me—no, inspires me.  And not just inspiring me to write my own plays or novels or paint with my fingers or mind or whatever, but inspires me to continue to be dedicated to this world. To be alive, to strengthen my relationship with living.

We forget this sometimes.  We forget about the things that keep us alive, the things that reign us in and anchor us to the reality that we cherish and believe.  Those dark days, those days that are remarkably small and weak for us are the days that we can look towards the next and hope that something glimmers, that a bar of music inspires you to love the world around you for a few moments, or finding a photograph on tumblr that latches you into another world and helps you dive into life again.

Art is powerful, but only because we are responsible for wrapping our minds around the work and doing the alterations in this home, this life.  I am thirsting for a new world of dreamers and leaders and innovators.  This world exists, and is out there, but sometimes I have to take a break from it to remember its there.

I am tired of this world of awful humans coming out of the woodwork.  I’m tired of a world where people you thought you knew turn out to be assholes or liars, or people you cannot trust.  I trust that this world is pulsing with life, but also that it is consumed by waves of disbelief and pain.  How can we overcome this? How can we reach our hands across oceans or through barriers of ignorance to make the changes we want to see in a new world?

If you believe it, act it.  If you value it, stick to it.  And if you love it, work for it.

I think what resonates the most with me about art and its implications in the world around me is that it explores passion and care in ways that only the artist knows and understands fully, but invites others to experience the passion and love one feels.  I trust in art that there is honesty somewhere, that there is purpose for one person somewhere and if that is the lifeline that they need then that is enough.

Someone once told me they created art to live, that it saved them, that it anchored them back to purpose and passion, and for that one person I am grateful to art for roping them back in, and for keeping another heart beating for this world.

So as long as I am here I will appreciate the art that finds its way into my ears and brain, because there is something addictive to good, beautiful, powerful art.  It inspires me, it inspires me to keep moving forward, and to challenge myself to find representations of my own passion, care, and love in the work that I do.

xx Jess

Calgary Vibes

Good morning friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

xx Jess

On Finding Creativity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all deserve a break in whatever way we wish.

xx Jess

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

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