Various people (including myself) have asked me this week what I’m doing “here,” as in, Manitoba Writers Guild – and they don’t just mean it as an existential question. The quick answer to that question is that I’m the summer writer in residence at MWG (and couldn’t be more thrilled to be so). The not-so-quick follow-up question to the first is, what will I be doing for the next four months?
That quick answer is, I’m not really sure yet. I’m still figuring that out, and will probably not even have a concrete answer in the next few weeks, if even at all. I get to kind of make things up as I go along (yes, it’s that cool of a job).
What I want to do over the next four months is write my little crippled heart out, to be perfectly honest. And for me, writing just doesn’t mean writing, as in sit with my notebook/laptop and bang my head against the wall so that little clusters of nice-sounding words will come out that I can piece together haphazardly and then erase, rewrite, and rewrite again (although, let me assure you, there will be a lot of that); writing means being aware of every little possible moment that one might later be able to capture, for all intents and purposes, on the page. So whether it’s reading a book by a new author that’s absolutely rocking your world; waking up in the middle of the night with a song stuck in your head that will just not leave your consciousness until the millisecond before you fall asleep; randomly bumping into a friend in a parking lot and discussing possible games that you will play during your next epic game night; or eating wonderfully scrumptious fresh homemade pumpkin muffins that blow your mind, only to realize your colleague made a comment to the same affect five minutes before you arrived in the office; to me, that’s writing. This is what I’ll be doing for the next four months.
So, pretty much nothing, you ask? Yeah, pretty much.
But at the same time, everything.
One of the other reasons I’m so excited about my residency this summer is that it’s one of the first times I get to “seriously” combine my two passions of writing and disability. I say “seriously” because, for the past eight months, that’s all I have really been doing: writing about disability. I just finished my first year of coursework in an interdisciplinary Masters degree in Disability Studies, and when I wasn’t reading about disability and the disabled experience, I was writing about disability and the disabled experience. And it was wonderful – even though, let me tell you, I felt like my eyes were going to fall out of my head on more than one occasion (but, as a friend pointed out to me recently, that’s precisely why I have sexy librarian-type glasses to hold them in place).
It was also awful.
Awful, because I read a wonderfully eloquent autoethnography published in 2010 by a woman from Saskatchewan whose experience of marrying the love of her life and having her two children has been one struggle after another assuring other people that yes, she could be a loving wife who could satisfy her husband both emotionally and physically and yes, she could be a fantastically loving, nurturing, and capable mother who also happens to be disabled. Awful, because I heard from a woman who has recently moved from Ontario to Manitoba because of her husband’s job and is seriously considering moving back to Ontario without him because she has not been able to find a doctor in over the year she’s been here who can guarantee they can accommodate her life-threatening latex intolerance by ensuring their offices and examination tables are cleaned with the appropriate substances and that the office cleaners don’t wear latex gloves. Awful, because the day before I started my residency at MWG, I completed my last paper which looked at instances of sterilization on intellectually disabled women of Alberta and British Columbia, legislation which wasn’t repealed until 1972 and ’73, respectively.
It’s funny, though, when awful can also be illuminating. In the past eight months, as a result, I’ve never been prouder to be a disabled woman. I’m incredibly proud to add my voice to the ones already out there in the hope of making society just a bit more socially inclusive to people of difference – and, in particular, to the disabled – despite the devastatingly slow pace society is prone to move at. (A speaker in one of my classes referred to this process as “earthworm work.”)
Which is also why I’m so excited to write some of my experiences about disability and not just read/write about other’s experiences, as the most important thing I’ve learned in the last eight months has been that the written word is dynamite; but when it is attached to a marginalized experience, it can rock the world.
Which is what I’m doing, “here,” at Manitoba Writers Guild. It’s also what I’m doing “here,” in the world, as well.
“A word after a word after a word is power.” – Margaret Atwood, “Spelling”