How I Conquered the World in 2016 and Other Stories

I’m still having trouble believing it, but 2016 is drawing to a close, which means it’s time for my annual round-up of the year. And what a year it has been.

 

Twelve months ago, I was working at the New Hampshire Disabilities Rights Center. I’d only been home from Italy for a few months, and Mopsy and I were still working through our nerves about other drivers while walking around town. I’d just submitted my final law school appplication—and I’d already been admitted to several fine schools. Now, I have just completed my first grueling semester at Harvard Law School, and when we aren’t studying, which isn’t that often, Mopsy and I are cruising around Boston like pros.

 

The only goal I set for myself this year was to not be afraid. I think I was mostly successful, though it was hard to keep that in perspective when I first realized I was going to have to do a lot more cooking than I originally anticipated, or when I was exhausted from studying for seven days straight and terrified I was going to fail my civil procedure exam, or when I woke up from my recurring hospital nightmare this morning feeling like I couldn’t breathe. Or when the election happened.

 

But with my signature optimism, when I look back at all the things I did this year—so many of them brand new—I have to give myself credit.

 

Everything I did at the DRC was totally new to me, from attending hearings to investigating voter accessibility. After I finished my internship, I went on a road trip to visit all the law schools I was still considering. When we were in New York visiting Columbia and NYU, my mom and I also went on two tours of Alexander Hamilton’s New York—one of the financial district and one of Washington Heights, Hamilton Heights, and Morningside Heights. They were fascinating. Then my Italian host parents, Stefania and Bruno, came to America for three weeks, and we visited Washington D.C., Pennsylvania, New York City, Boston, and of course New Hampshire with them. my older brother got married. I went to the National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind for the first time, where I tried ballroom dancing, swing, and 1Touch self-defense. Then I spent the summer learning my way around Harvard, Cambridge, and Boston.

 

And then I started at Harvard Law School, where every single thing I’ve done has been new. I’d never read a legal opinion before. Now I feel like I read nothing but legal opinions. I learned how to do legal research and how to write in legalese. I learned how to think in a completely new way that I’m still not used to and I can’t describe. For the first time, I took final exams with no indication of my grasp of the material—an experience I’d never like to have again but unfortunately I will have to repeat five more times. And right now I’m in the middle of my first ever job search, complete with cover letters. So many cover letters.

 

But I haven’t done only law stuff. I joined a book club with some of my amazing sectionmates. So far, we’ve read Kindred by Octavia Butler and Cinder by Marissa Meyer (the last one was my recommendation if you hadn’t guessed). Right now we’re reading The Dinner by Herman Koch (well, I haven’t started it yet). I also tried out for the law school a cappella group—I didn’t get in, but it was fun to try—and I also applied to write for the law school parody—didn’t make that either but it was both the first script and the first parody I’ve ever written.

 

I’ve also started becoming politically engaged this year. I’m not going to go into the election too much here, because it really isn’t what I want this blog to be about, but I have written about my feelings on the election,and of course you’ve seen my posts on Braille literacy and the Foundation Fighting Blindness’s #HowEyeSeeIt campaign. I was chosen as a section representative for HLS’s law and government program, and I’ve applied to volunteer for a 2017 gubernatorial campaign.

 

All along, I’ve kept writing. At the beginning of this year, I started queryingagents about my novel. I paused when law school hit, but I’m going to send out a new batch of queries in January.

 

My story “Dissonance” was published in Abyss and Apex in April. If you haven’t read it yet, you can read it right here. And over the summer, I wrote and revised three more stories in the Phoenix Song universe—what i’m calling the world where “Dissonance” is set. I also wrote a poem set in the same world, my first poem since tenth grade. With a lot of luck, you might see those some day ever.

 

Once law school started, while I did write less, I did keep writing. I made sure to find time to write at least a couple times a week, not only because I love it, but also because I’ve found if I don’t write, I become first cranky, then miserable, then practically nauseous. When I feel like I’m drowning in law, my stories keep me sane. I finally got back to revising my memory-wiping academy novel, and I succeeded at my summer writing goal of getting the number of projects I’m working on down to two. And in the last couple months, I’ve been trying new things with my writing too. I wrote my first ever 250-word flash fiction story. I usually have the problem that every short story I write turns into a novel, so I was convinced I wasn’t going to be able to do it, and I was pretty darn shocked when I actually did. And right now I’m almost finished with the first draft of my first ever science fiction story. This story was actually inspired by whatever happened with my left eye back in January when my vision went all dark and shimmery for a day. Funnily enough, that was the same incident that inspired my first blog post of the year, about my decision to be brave.

 

Finally, I added some new sections to the blog this year too. Now, in addition to links to my published short stories, you can also read the stories behind the stories to find out what I was thinking when I wrote the stories and why I made the choices I did, as well as other fun facts and even some of my own illustrations. I’ve also been having a ton of fun writing the posts from Mopsy’s point of view, and I hope you’ve had fun reading them, because there’s more to come.

 

And after I don’t know how many New Years resolutions, I finally learned to use Twitter. The secret was  linking my Twitter and Facebook accounts so I only had to worry about one. I also entered a couple Twitter pitch slams for my novel, which not only got me in touch with some agents but also got me into the habit of checking Twitter and tweeting—twelve hours of tweeting and constantly refreshing does that sometimes.

 

I didn’t really conquer the world in 2016. In fact, especially in the last few months, between the pressures of law school, the election results, and the feeling that I just wasn’t writing as much as I wanted to or moving forward with my writing career as fast as I thought I would, I’ve often felt like the world was doing a good job of trampling me into the dust. But looking back on all I’ve done and all the new things I’ve tried, I’d say all and all, 2016 was a reasonable success. Now that I have a handle on how law school works, I feel like I can balance things a little better second semester. We’ll see how well that actually goes, but after a few more good nights of sleep, I’m ready to hit the ground running in the new year.

 

So bring it on, 2017.

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How I See It

Recently the Foundation Fighting Blindness launched its #HowEyeSeeIt campaign to raise awareness about blindness caused by degenerative retinal diseases and to push for a cure. As part of the campaign, people are participating in a blindfold challenge, where they post two minute videos of themselves trying to do daily tasks while blindfolded. One of the suggested tasks is having a friend give you an unknown amount of cash and then you try to pay for a meal with that cash. Another is having a friend ask you to take care of their child for two minutes while blindfolded. These and other activities in people’s videos are offensive.

 

I’ve talked a bit on Facebook about my problems with the campaign, but I felt like I needed more space to explain myself more fully and thoughtfully. So here is how I see it.

 

First, let me be clear. I have no problem with medical research, and no problem with a search for a cure. Personally, I wouldn’t want a cure, but I don’t have a degenerative retinal disease. I’m not going to pretend I know what it’s like to slowly lose my vision. I have some vision, but I have been blind since birth. Three years ago, when the retina in my right eye detached and my eye had to be removed, I lost some vision, and yes, if someone offered me that vision back, I would take it. But I wouldn’t take more than what I had before, because I don’t know what perfect vision is like, so I don’t miss it, and I don’t want it. Also there’s all sorts of brain science that shows that getting your vision back doesn’t mean you’ll be able to see, but I won’t go into that because I only vaguely understand how it works. Suffice it to say that if I had a choice between perfect vision and a million dollars, I’d take the million dollars every time. But that’s me, and I’m not representative of every blind person, and I’m certainly not representative of someone who lost their sight over time due to a degenerative retinal disease. So if they can conduct medical research and find a cure, that’s great.

 

But I find the FFO’s campaign to be deeply problematic. Two-minute videos of people struggling to perform daily tasks while blindfolded does not promote awareness of blindness. Instead it promotes fear and ignorance. If I had to perform some daily task with earplugs in, you bet I would have a hard time doing it, and you bet I would be afraid. But if I was losing my hearing, of course it would be scary, but I would learn, just as so many people who are losing their sight learn to live just as independently as they did before they lost their vision. Two minutes blind can in no way represent years of practice and training. It just can’t. It reduces the blind person to someone who must be pitied, cured, and worst of all, feared. It is a backwards, old-fashioned way of seeing the blind (and I use the word “seeing” deliberately). It is the idea that when you see someone who is blind, or someone with any disability, you are afraid, because you are afraid that could happen to you. It is the same sort of ignorance and fear that I encountered, not everywhere, but so often, when I lived in Italy. These attitudes about blindness can be changed, but what FFO is saying is that it is impossible to be blind and live independently—going blind is the worst thing that could happen to you—and the only solution is a cure.

 

Which brings me to my second issue with the #HowEyeSeeIt campaign. As I said, I have no problem with research for a cure. But there are other options, options that are hampered by the notion that being blind is to be feared. Braille, assistive technology, white canes or guide dogs, independent living skills training, positive public awareness campaigns, these are the ways we combat blindness.

 

Not being able to see is not the end of the world. Trust me, I know. There are strategies for handling money without sight—everything from folding bills to smart phone apps. And a blind parent is just as capable of taking care of a child as a sighted parent. In the midst of efforts to prevent social services from taking children away from blind parents, many times before the parents can even bring their child home from the hospital, this is particularly egregious. It is a result of ignorance, and it is this ignorance and this fear of blindness that FFO is promoting.

 

By living independently, we open the public’s eyes to what we can do and how we can do it. By being open to talking to people and answering their questions, we educate the public, and we break down barriers. If we let the public see us as incapable, as #HowEyeSeeIt does, we only reinforce stereotypes.

 

I have said it before, but I think it bears repeating here: I will answer any question you have. I won’t get offended. I am happy to do it, because every question I answer is one more step towards a society that accepts diversity and does not view blindness as a “disability.”

 

This is how I see it. I am a daughter, a sister, a friend, a student. I write. I play the clarinet. I am a huge nerd. This is who I am. I am blind, yes. But blindness does not define me. Blindness does not stop me. And this is the message that needs to be shared.

Fox-Hunting, Nose-Punching, and Turning Laundry Blue: Three Weeks a 1L

I should be taking advantage of finishing my reading before midnight and getting some sleep, but since my weekend has been swallowed by my first memo, I wanted to squeeze in a quick post about my first three-ish weeks of law school.

I say three-ish because the first week was orientation, and the last two weeks have not been full weeks of classes. Thank you Labor Day.

So, three weeks ago I arrived at Harvard. Orientation was crazy, particularly because on top of all the programming, we had lots of reading to do for our introductory classes. Gone are the days when we go over the syllabus in the first class, people. I’d say I read about a hundred pages, maybe more, during orientation. And it didn’t get easier once orientation ended, because now we had more classes.

I feel like I’ve been spending every spare minute I have reading cases as fast as I can. My fingers hurt. I want to read fiction. I want to write more than a paragraph. I want to draw. Also sleep. The only time I pause reading is to take notes, but as the week goes on, those have become more and more eratic. I started out the week briefing every case. Everything was so nice and organized and detailed. By Wednesday, my briefs turned into mushy summaries that didn’t distinguish between the facts and the legal reasoning or the issues and the holding (the court’s decision). By this point, all I’m writing is “This case is about timber, a fence, some blue paint, and adverse possession.”

Over the weekend, I was able to take one day completely off, which was a wonderful, wonderful decision. It helped me reset and recharge and I was able to attack this week’s readings with gusto. And a plan.

I was going to stay two days ahead of the readings on the theory that I could be a bit more relaxed about it all. It was a good theory, but that was about it. I was so tired, and I fell behind my plan, and then I was stressed about not being on top of things. Also, because I did the reading two days before the class, and because I didn’t have time to review my notes because I was reading for the class two days ahead, I found myself struggling to remember what the cases for each class were about, even when I looked at my notes. Everything was just blurring together. So obviously I need to rethink my strategy.

Since I’ve been doing all this reading, have I learned anything?

I think yes. I feel like my understanding of what I’m reading is definitely improving in week 2, but it’s also a function of my note taking. So as my notes become less detailed, my understanding goes down the tubes a bit. I totally get what’s going on in torts and legislation and regulation. I thought I had a decent grasp on civil procedure (and then today’s class happened and I’m totally lost). I’m just sort of stumbling along in my property professor’s wake. And I haven’t been too concerned with first year legal research and writing, except to be alarmed by the Bluebook, until we were assigned our first memo today. Also, because there’s so much reading, if I don’t get something, I can’t go back to reread and try to figure it out. There just isn’t time. It’s gotten to the point when I don’t even recognize if I don’t understand something anymore, which is probably bad.

My notes also become snarkier the later it gets at night, and looking back I see they are riddled with random Princess Bride and Winny the Pooh references.

But I can definitely tell you that whoever said “A rose is a rose is a rose” is totally wrong (my latent English major is attempting to poke her head out and being beaten back). When applied to torts, a punch on the nose is not a punch on the nose is not a punch on the nose.

And that’s not to say that there’s no art in the stuff I’m reading. In Pierson v. Post, a seminal property case, the dissenting judge called the fox-thief Post a “saucy intruder.” Make of that what you will.

Okay, seriously, I’ve learned a lot. I’m not going to try to list everything I’ve learned because (1) I don’t think I can and (2) I don’t want to bore the pants off you. I’m living and breathing this stuff; I’m not about to regurgitate it onto my blog. But speaking of pants, I finally learned how to work the laundry machines, but not without mishap. In my defense, it was totally not intuitive.

I knew 1L year was going to be hard. I just don’t think I appreciated what hard meant. These last three weeks have been busy, stressfull, and exhausting. On top of the schoolwork, I’m doing a lot more cooking than I anticipated, because the law school dining hall has weird hours, and I’ve also had to stay on top of my budget in a way I didn’t even really have to do in Italy. I feel like I was not only flung into grad school but also into adulthood with a lot less warning than I would have liked. It’s been quite a transition, and I’m not out of the woods yet.

The good news is I’m not alone. Everyone I’ve talked to in my section is feeling the exact same way I am, and since 80 of us can’t be doing everything wrong, I’m guessing we’re probably doing at least something right. And everyone says it will get better. We’ll figure things out, make friends, start extracurriculars, and though it seems impossible to believe now, we’ll have fun.

That’s Jameyanne for you, ever the optimist. It is also quite possible that I drown in legal opinions and you never hear from me again. But I think I’ll go with option 1.

Summer Writing Roundup

I’ve been at Harvard for a week and a half, and by this point summer feels like a distant, golden memory. So maybe I’m a little late with this post, but I still wanted to quickly talk about the goals I set for myself this summer and whether I actually achieved them. (Cue awkward laughter.)

 

back in June, I set out a bunch of writing goals for the summer. I wanted to outline the hypothetical sequels for my small child magician novel. I wanted to have complete first drafts of all the short stories in the story cycle in my Phoenix Song universe I’m working on. I wanted to finish the fanfiction I was writing. And finally I wanted to get back to revising my memory wiping academy novel.

 

And… I accomplished none of that.

 

Okay, that’s not fair. I finished the outline for the second small child magician novel and started work on outlining the third. I revised three of the Phoenix Song Stories I’d already written and finished a rough draft of the fourth—which I’d been struggling with since December. I made a lot of progress on the fanfiction. And I got back to the memory wiping academy novel.

 

I also did a lot of other things this summer. I attended the NFB’s national convention, which was huge for me. I learned Unified English Braille (the updated Braille code which I hope to talk about in more detail in the future). ]. I got a new BrailleNote, which is more like a Braille tablet (also hope to post about that later). Then the new BrailleNote broke—apparently it had a defective motherboard—and had to go back in for repairs right before I started here at Harvard (luckily I got it back on the first day of classes). I learned the Harvard Law School campus and the T system, which was also huge, and there’s still more to learn. Finally, I had fun. I learned to play cribbage. I biked and kayaked and swam and went to the beach. I went to the midnight release party for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, my first HP midnight release party, and the party was the best part about that book (but the less said about that the better). I read a lot, and I wrote a lot.

 

Maybe I didn’t accomplish my writing goals as entirely as I’d intended, but the important thing I’m remembering is the goal behind the goals. I wanted to get myself to a place where I felt like I was at a different stage with each project so I could make progress on all of them without feeling like I was detracting from the others. I’ve now started my 1L year, and my writing time has been significantly cut down. In fact, my time for everything but reading and class has been significantly cut down. I’m hoping this will get better as I get used to what I’m reading for class, but in the meantime, it’s really nice to have projects at different stages so that, if I have a few minutes to squeeze in some writing (which has only happened once so far), I have choices about what kind of writing I’m doing and where in the process of the story I am. Right now, I have one project I’m outlining (the third small child magician novel), one project I’m in the first draft stage (the Phoenix Song stories), and one project I’m revising (the memory wiping academy novel). I feel like, with my crazy schedule and complete lack of free time, having the ability to choose what to write will actually work better for me, because it means I’ll be more productive rather than forcing it.

 

As I’ve already said, this summer was probably the last summer I will have entirely free. My goal, at its heart, was to make the most of it, and I definitely did that. So here’s to the summer, and here’s to a productive first year of law school to come.

More Important Than Fear, or How to Dance Like No One’s Watching

I am sitting on a plane returning to Boston from Orlando, Florida, where I have just spent the most incredible week at the national convention of the National Federation of the Blind. (Note: I wrote this Wednesday but didn’t get to post until today.) I went to the NFB convention because I was a scholarship finalist, but I went with low expectations—worse than low expectations—negative expectations. And now I’m struggling to find words to describe what a powerful and transformative experience it was for me.

 

Here’s a little background for you. I was born blind. I have aniridia glaucoma, which means I don’t have irises (so my eyes can’t adjust to light and dark and I am extremely sensitive to bright light) and that I have higher than normal pressure in my eyes. I do have some residual vision in my left eye. I can see light and dark, shapes, and colors. I used to have similar vision in my right eye until three years ago, when the pressure skyrocketed, my retina detached, I lost the vision in that eye, and I was in so much pain it had to be removed. Now it’s like there’s a big black hole where my right eye used to be (at least in terms of what I see there). I would be lying if I said it was no big deal to me when I lost the vision in my right eye, but on the whole I’ve always been very comfortable with my blindness. I’ve talked about this before, but I want to reiterate it here. Because I was blind, I had a really hard time socially in middle and high school. Among other things, I could never tell where my friends were sitting in the cafeteria and would always end up eating lunch by myself. I thought, at the time, that this was fine with me, because I could use the time to read and write. It was only when I went to college and met friends who banged on the table and yelled for me to come sit with them across crowded rooms—without me having to ask—that I realized what I’d been missing. Just as it was no big deal to me that I’m a blind person, it was no big deal to my friends, and this was fabulous. I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision to do this, but I began distancing myself from my blindness, losing touch with my blind friends back in New England, throwing myself into any activity that someone even hinted might be difficult for me, and emphatically shooting down anyone who suggested I consider writing about my experiences as a blind person. Through social media, I saw many of my blind friends become enthusiastically involved with national organizations for the blind, such as the National Federation for the Blind or the American Council of the Blind, but I didn’t understand why they would want to do that. Personally, I never posted anything about my blindness myself except to make a joke or to tell funny stories about Mopsy. That wasn’t how I wanted the world to perceive me. And then, as you all know, I went to Italy, where almost everyone saw me as blind and nothing else. It was in Italy where I realized that I wanted to go to law school and become a disabilities rights lawyer. By advocating for my own independence, I showed everyone in Assisi that a blind person could be independent. I changed minds, and at the end of my year in Italy, people were coming out of the woodwork to tell me that they knew a blind person and they were going to tell them everything I’d done. I thought, if I made such a difference just by existing, what could I do if I tried to make a difference? It was also in Italy where I decided that I wanted to see more representations of people with disabilities in fiction, and that if I wanted to see that, why shouldn’t I be the one doing the representing? Who better is there? At the same time, I was, and still am, honestly, uncomfortable with the idea that I will be perceived as a lawyer whose interested in disability rights just because I’m blind or as a writer who includes characters with disabilities because I’m blind.

 

Last March, I applied for a National Federation of the Blind scholarship. I was hesitant to apply, because I’d heard that the NFB was radical, militant even, and most of all that they are against guide dogs. Since my experiences with Mopsy in Italy were the focus of my scholarship essay, I was sure they would reject me. But my parents encouraged me to apply anyway. Law school is expensive, guys, and as my parents put it, money is money. So I applied, and I won. And I spent this past week at the national convention. As I said, I came with negative expectations. I planned to take the money and run for the hills. I planned to spend the convention making snarky tweets about what happens when three thousand blind people swarm through a hotel lobby.

 

I did make some snarky tweets, because let’s be fair, with three thousand blind people, the jokes are rife for the picking. But I very quickly found that I did not want to stand aside and joke around, and I certainly did not want to run for the hills after convention. The people in the NFB are fighting for causes I am passionate about. They recognize that our society has made tremendous progress towards equality for the blind, but they also recognize that there is still so much to be done, and they are continuing to fight for that equality. Sure, there are definitely some things I don’t agree with, but on the whole, it just makes sense, and turns out most of the things I was told before I went to convention about the NFB were exaggerations or downright wrong. NFB is not against guide dogs. The first lady is a guide dog user. NFB does not believe in complete and total independence at all times. They believe it’s important to know how to be independent and to know that you can, as a blind person, navigate the world without assistance, but it really comes down to knowing what’s best for you in your daily life. They aren’t sue-happy. Rather, they are pursuing change through means that are often the only way to force large corporations to take action. And they are not fighting with Google over the self-driving car because they don’t want blind people to be relying on a machine. They want the self-driving car, which has been hailed all around as an innovation for people with disabilities, to have an interface that will be accessible to the blind, and they want to prevent and combat laws that are already being passed requiring a licensed driver to operate a self-driving car—effectively excluding the blind from an opportunity to expand their own independence. Finally, to me, the NFB didn’t seem radical or militant. They seemed energetic and committed to always moving forward without settling for what we have.

 

At convention, I met so many amazing, intelligent people. I was mentored every day by members of the scholarship committee—writers, editors, lawyers alike. I attended meetings where I learned about exemptions in the fair labor act that allow people with disabilities to be paid substantially less than the minimum wage and the battles blind parents must fight for the right to raise their children as well as what the NFB is doing about it. I learned more about my rights as a blind student, and I screamed myself hoarse for Braille literacy, the Accessible Instructional Material in Higher Education Act (Aim High), the Marakesh Treaty to stop the worldwide book famine for the blind, and accessible fitness equipment. I learned how to navigate an unfamiliar area, like the airport or our hotel (which someone described as larger than the city of Pisa, and I’ve been to Pisa and I believe it), by asking for directions but staying independent rather than just by taking a sighted person’s arm and following them without a clue where they’re taking me. (Like I already said, there’s definitely times for sighted guide, but it’s nice to know how to do things without it.) And I took a ballroom dancing class and learned the basic steps for waltz and swing. I’m normally super self-conscious about dancing, because I can’t see what everyone else is doing and I’m afraid I’m doing it wrong. But here, no one could see what anyone was doing, so not only was our teacher—who was also blind—able to effectively describe the steps, but it really was the perfect time to dance like no one was watching.

 

The only thing I didn’t do was sleep and eat.

 

I also took a 1touch class,. 1touch is a self-defense program designed for the blind. I loved it, and I’m really interested in taking a longer, more intense class and maybe becoming an instructor myself, because I think it’s really important for the blind to be able to defend themselves. We might not want to be called vulnerable members of society, but as long as mainstream culture, and particularly predators, see us as vulnerable, we sort of have to face it that we are. In the class I took, we learned some basic ways to move away from someone who has grabbed you. I also now know how to break someone’s arm. I learned that if someone is simply being aggressively helpful (“Let me seize your arm and drag you across this street you clearly shouldn’t be crossing yourself!”), it’s better to twist free, step back, and tell them you’re all right and that they should ask first next time. On the other hand, if someone grabs you with the intention of hurting you, you want to grab them back and not let go because then you know where they are at all times and you’re in control. But all that aside, our instructor said something that really struck me, not just when applied to self-defense, but when applied to my everyday life: “Bravery is when there’s something more important than being afraid.”

 

I spent nine months in Italy absolutely terrified that I was going to be killed by a maniac with a motor vehicle, and since then, I have been unwilling to even stick a toe outside my comfort zone. It’s safe in my comfort zone. But it’s also incredibly freeing and empowering to walk through an airport independently, without sighted assistance, to find your gate and the bathroom and the food court on your own, to know where you are in the world rather than just feeling like a package that’s being delivered to who-knows-where. It was definitely outside my comfort zone—actually almost everything I did this week was outside my comfort zone—but once I did it, I found that my comfort zone grew to accommodate my new skills.

 

During his keynote address at the banquet Tuesday night, NFB president Mark Riccobono actually said that fear can be a good thing. Fear is powerful, he said, because it tells us that what we are doing is valuable. With everything wonderful comes fear. And we must use our fear to discover and push past our own limits.

 

So as I crossed the stage Tuesday night and received my scholarship award, I made a decision. Not a decision to be brave, which I’ve done before. Not a decision to push away my fears. But a decision to embrace them, to make something new of them, to turn them into strength.

 

Maybe I’ve been brainwashed, but I have decided that I want to join the NFB. (And just for the record, I don’t think I’ve been brainwashed, because there are some philosophies and methodologies I definitely disagree with, and that’s all right.) I want to be a part of this dynamic, energetic, strong organization and join their drive and commitment towards true equality for the blind, not only in the United States, but in the world. I want to dance like no one’s watching and not care if they are.

 

But first, I really, really need to get some sleep.

America From the Italian Point of View Part Three: Farewell

When I last left you on our grand tour of the northeast, we had just returned to New Hampshire from New York City. If you’ve missed any of the posts about our trip, you can catch up here with Part One and Part Two.

 

We returned from New York very late Friday night. Stefania and Bruno only had a few days left in America. Originally, we had plans to take them to Boston and Portsmouth and the Flume—where once you could see the Old Man in the Mountain. But we were all pretty wiped out, so for the next few days, we mostly just relaxed at home. We walked around my neighborhood and downtown Concord. We played badminton and basketball—which resulted in me jamming my pinkie and having to tape my fingers together for the next three days. We pulled off a surprise birthday party for my mother, which was a lot harder than I would have thought but also a ton of fun. And of course, we played a ton of Uno. My younger brother was now home from Juilliard, and he added a new element of fun to our games. Also, he got to learn his Italian numbers and colors as well.

 

We did go out to Portsmouth for lunch one day so they could try fresh lobster, which they loved. And finally, on their last day, we went into Boston early and spent the hours before their flight left showing them my personal favorite city in the northeast. We went to Harvard Law School so they could see where I will be studying and living for the next three years. We went up to the observatory at the Prudential Center, and just like at the Top of the Rock in New York, we could see all of Boston. Finally, we walked around the waterfront and the North End, saw a couple of the monuments along the Freedom Trail, and ate some last cookies from Mike’s Pastries.

 

All in all, I think we gave them a really good trip around the northeastern United States. They saw Washington D.C. and New York and Boston. They also saw quieter places like Concord and Portsmouth New Hampshire and Gettysburg Pennsylvania. They got to try different styles of American food from different regions. And we did our best to keep it leisurely.

 

We learned a lot about each other’s cultures as well. For example, I learned that Italians eat roughly the same number of meals as hobbits. They learned how tipping in restaurants works and that you do not drink maple syrup. To correct this last bit of misinformation, we actually made them waffles one morning and showed them how to use maple syrup appropriately, then sent them home with a jug of New Hampshire maple syrup (us New Hampshirites are very proud of our syrup).

 

But more than the exchange of culture, it was so much fun for me to spend three weeks with Stefania and Bruno again. I feel like I learned more about them, and they learned more about me, than we did in the nine months I spent in Italy. This is probably because I was so much more comfortable at home than I ever was in Italy. It was because of them that I was able to complete my Fulbright, but I was still so scared in Italy that I just acted like a turtle and retreated into my shell to wait it out. But in these three weeks, I really felt like I was myself with them more than I ever was in Italy, and we had so much fun together. Already, they’re planning to come back for my law school graduation in three years, if they can. If I can pluck up the courage, I’d like to go back to Italy—not to visit Italy but to visit them. After all the time we’ve spent together, they have become part of our family.

America from the Italian Point of View Part Two: Washington D.C. and New York

I meant to write this on Saturday, but I jammed my pinkie playing basketball, and it’s a bit difficult to type with your fingers taped together. My fingers are still taped together, but I don’t want to put this off any longer. If you missed the beginning of our grand tour of northeastern America, check out last week’s post here.

 

When I left you last, my Italian host parents, Stefania and Bruno, had arrived, and we’d spent a few days in New Hampshire and then traveled to Pennsylvania to visit my aunt, whom Stefania and Bruno knew because she came with me when I first traveled to Italy at the beginning of my Fulbright year. We also introduced them to Rocket, our rambunctious black lab puppy—not so much a puppy anymore, but still crazy. We spent a rainy day relaxing, playing with the dogs, and playing game after game of Uno. My mom learned all her Italian numbers and colors, and watching Stefania and Bruno’s interactions while playing cards was eerily similar to my own grandparents.

 

The next day, we went to Washington D.C. I haven’t been to D.C. in ten years, and I barely remember it. We walked along the mall, visiting the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Vietnam Memorial, and the new World War II Memorial, which I’d never seen before. Stefania and Bruno were very interested in seeing the World War II Memorial, because they know the history from the Italian front, and they were interested to learn about the war from the American point of view. Thanks to my senior honors thesis, this is something I could discuss at length, even in Italian. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, that for them, the war happened on their soil, to their citazens, in an immediate and terrible way, but in America, the violence of the war didn’t touch civilians in the same way. America was fighting a larger war than Italy as well, because of the European and Pacific fronts, and even though the only attack on American soil was Pearl Harbor, the war was still felt at home in America, with every citizen pitching in to help with the war effort in a way that has not been seen since.

 

On our way back from Washington, we stopped in Gettysburg and had dinner at a really interesting restaurant. It was in the oldest building iin Gettysburg, constructed in 1776. We ate at a table, but other parties were eating in 1800s-style beds, and all the servers were dressed in Civil War style clothing. It was really cool for Stefania and Bruno, who knew about the Civil War and were very interested in it.

 

The next day, we left Pennsylvania and drove north to New York City, where we spent five full days. I’ve been going back and forth to New York all year, visiting law schools and seeing my brother at Juilliard, so I feel like I know the city pretty well. Until I got into Harvard, I thought it was where I would be living for the next three years. But it’s been a long time since I’ve done the touristy things in the city. We started with Time Square and Fifth Avenue and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Then we spent a whole day at the September 11 Memorial Museum. It was incredible, but also very difficult, as it should be. I don’t think anyone can go through that museum with dry eyes, and we didn’t even get through all of it. It was just so much to take in—the faces of all the victims, the recordings of phone messages from people on the planes and in the Towers telling their family they loved them, the pieces of the buildings and the planes and the charred fire trucks. It was incredible not only to see all of this but to share such an intensely American experience with Stefania and Bruno, who of course had heard about the attack on Italian news but never quite appreciated the extent of what that day did to America in the same way we did.

 

After Ground Zero, we walked along the High Line, which used to be the tracks for an elevated train along the Hudson but is now a walking path. Like the bridge over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie, we had expectations that were much different from what the reality actually was. We expected a view of the city, but instead we found ourselves dwarfed, as usual in the city, by skyscrapers on all sides. We could barely even see the Hudson. However, Stefania and Bruno really enjoyed the leisurely stroll and the chance to see all the different plants and flowers planted along the walkway. They were also fascinated byt the way old, historical buildings were right next to brand new skyscrapers all over the city. I wouldn’t have thought this would be anything of note for them, because this is in fact very similar to Italy, where history is literally layered on top of older history, but I think they were so interested because it wasn’t something they expected to find in America.

 

We spent the next day at the Statue of Liberty. We climbed the pedestal, and they were able to get audio tours in Italian, which gave me a break from translating. I told them about my own grandparents, who came to America as children from Italy, stopped at Ellis Island, and saw the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of freedom and opportunity, just like so many other immigrants.

 

Finally, on our last day in New York, we walked leisurely through Central Park and went to the top of Rockefeller Center. This was incredible, because we could see all the places we had visited all week. Stefania and Bruno were just overwhelmed with everything we’d done and seen. They’d never imagined that they would be able to come to America and see New York in person. It’s thanks to them that I could see so much of Italy last year, so I’m glad we were able to give them this chance.

America From the Italian Point of View Part One: First Impressions

Last year, when I was in Italy, my landlady and landlord, Stefania and Bruno, basically adopted me. I ate with them every day, and they took me all around Umbria. Honestly, I couldn’t have completed my Fulbright without them. So when I left last June, my family and I invited them to come to America. And this week, after months of planning, they did.

 

They’ve been here for four full days now. They have recovered from their jetlag, and we’re planning a leisurely tour of the northeast. So far, we’ve had a lot of fun.

 

We picked them up Monday night at the airport. It took over an hour for them to get through customs, while we waited on the outside and tried not to worry too much. Neither Stefania nor Bruno speak any English, and without any English, we knew it would be hard for them to navigate the airport. At the same time, we knew that other Italian travelers or the flight crew from Italy would be able to help them. Finally, they came through customs, and we set off for NH. After a light dinner, we all went to bed. I was glad to find that while my Italian is a little ragged around the edges, it is still very much alive and kicking. I did devote the last several weeks to reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in Italian, which I’m sure helped.

 

On Tuesday, we relaxed and strolled around our neighborhood, but it was a bit rainy, so we didn’t do much. It was a good day to sleep and continue to adjust to American time (Italy is six hours ahead). Things I took for granted before I spent a year in Italy—like ziplock bags, vegetable steamers, and garbage disposals—fascinated them. They were also fascinated by the chipmunk population in our backyard. I guess chipmunks are far less common in Europe, and also apparently chipmunks are cute (I know a lot of people think they’re cute, but having never seen one, I’m not so sure I can get too excited about it, especially when it sounds like they’re candle pin bowling with acorns in our attic at midnight).

 

It continued to rain on Wednesday. I had a clarinet recital, just for them, where I played the concerto I’ve been working on all year. It went really well. Then we all cooked my mom’s famous roast chicken and my up-and-coming smashed potatoes together, and then I taught Stefania and Bruno how to play Uno. Of all the games I have, it seemed the simplest to play in multiple languages. Throughout my very fractured explanation of the rules in Italian, Stefania asked question after question, but Bruno said absolutely nothing, giving me no indication of whether he understood what I was saying. I was pretty nervous about it, pretty sure I completely messed it up, but apparently I did all right, because Bruno creamed us all.

 

On Thursday, we drove from New Hampshire to Pennsylvania. It was a long, long drive, but we took the scenic route, and they enjoyed seeing the American countryside and the architecture. They’re keeping a running list of all the states we’re driving through and visiting. We spent a lot of time going over the geography with them. We stopped in Poughkeepsie New York and crossed the Hudson River on the Walkway over the Hudson. It was a bit cold and windy and still cloudy. Honestly the bridge wasn’t what we expected, given everything we’d heard about it. It was so big that it was really just like being on a road—it didn’t feel like a bridge—and the sides of the bridge were so high it was difficult to see the river over them. But it was a nice way to stretch our legs, and we found a good lunch right on the waterfront. Finally, we had the quintessential American experience: eating McDonald’s for dinner in the car. We’d planned to have dinner upon our arrival in Pennsylvania, but the walk over the Hudson took longer than expected, and we hit a bit of traffic, and we knew we didn’t want to eat dinner at ten o’clock.

 

Today is another day for relaxing. It’s still raining. We really hoped we would have escaped the rain, but at least it’s a little warmer, and the forecast is for better weather. This weekend, we’re going to visit Washington D.C. and Gettysburg. Then we’ll start back up towards New Hampshire, spending a few days in New York along the way. Once back in New Hampshire, we plan to spend a day in Boston, where I’ll show them where I’m going to school next year. We’re also planning to go to Portsmouth for lobster one evening. And based on the hours and hours we’ve spent playing Uno so far today, we’ll be doing lots of that too.

 

So far, I think it has been a great experience for them. I’m certainly having fun, and it’s really just nice to see them again and show them America, after everything they did for me in Italy.

 

The purpose of the Fulbright program is cultural exchange and understanding. I learned so much from Stefania and Bruno about Italian culture, and while I explained a lot of aspects of American culture to them, it’s one thing to have it explained to you and another to see it. We’re barely a third of the way through their trip, but I think already they’ve seen a lot of American culture. Here’s hoping the rest of the trip is as great as these first few days have been.

Decisions, Decisions

Jameyanne and Mopsy standing in front of the Harvard law school library. Jameyanne is wearing a Harvard Law School T-shirt and has her hands in the air.For most of my life, I’ve had people telling me that I should go to law school because I would make an excellent lawyer. My response was always an unequivocal no. Absolutely not. I will never go to law school. It’s the last thing I wanted to do. Ever.

 

But almost a year and a half ago, I attended a dinner held by the Umbria chapter of the International Lions Club, which turned out to be several hours of listening to people complain about how hopeless and impossible it was to get money for their guide dog school and, when dinner was finally served, attempting not to shout at these same people who applauded when I poured myself a glass of water or cut up my chicken independently. By the time I got home, it was past two in the morning, and I had school the next day. But I was so tired and angry and frustrated—not just with what had happened at the dinner but with my whole first month in Italy. And as I tried to fall asleep that night, my thoughts shifted from an angry tirade to a new idea: I could do something about this. And I started considering the unthinkable: law school.

 

As untinkable as it was, I couldn’t let the idea go, and soon it wasn’t unthinkable at all. It was something I wanted to do.

 

And so began a journey whose ending I am just now reaching. First I made everyone swear not to say “I told you so.” Then I started studying for the LSAT with my mother, first on the trains to and from Ancona and Venice in June, then on the plane back to America, then all summer. We read the Princeton Review LSAT book cover to cover twice. Then I practiced with each individual section type, and then I did entire practice tests—using real old tests I bought from the Law School Admission Council. My score steadily improved over the month of September. Finally, in October, I took the LSAT. While I waited for my scores, I created a list of nine schools I wanted to apply to.

 

At the end of October, I received my LSAT scores. They weren’t as high as I wanted—I’d been consistently scoring six to eight points higher on my practice tests. but they were still really good, and I decided, since my LSAT scores were far from the complete picture, that I would apply to all nine of the schools on my list.

 

From November through March, I received acceptance after acceptance. In the end, I was accepted to eight of the nine schools, and many of them offered me significant merit scholarships. In the end, my decision came down to Harvard and Columbia. I’d visited a couple other schools, but they didn’t have the right feel, and I’d eliminated the others because they were either too far from home—I knew I wanted to stay in the northeast—or because they just weren’t in the same league as my top choice schools, and since I’m interested in going into the federal government, I need to go to the best school I can. It’s actually common advice, to just go to the best law school you get into. I knew that both Columbia and Harvard would get me where I wanted to go, so I decided to visit both schools and leave it up to my gut.

 

This month, I attended the admitted students weekends at both schools. There were a lot of things I really liked about Columbia. I liked the neighborhood and the feel of New York City. Everyone was really nice, and it seemed like it had all the opportunities I was looking for. Then I learned that Columbia Law School doesn’t have a dining hall, and in learning that this wasn’t available, I realized how important that was to me. It’s not that I don’t want to have to cook for myself during my first year of law school—though I don’t—it’s that the lack of a dining hall—the lack of any common space—coupled with the fact that all the law students live in apartments off campus, really made the school feel like there was no sense of community. It felt like people went to school and then left and went home to their regular lives. While I was sure I could handle this and still make friends and not starve, it wasn’t the situation I was looking for.

 

So when I went to Harvard, it was with the knowledge that I wasn’t completely in love with Columbia. I felt like I would have to absolutely hate Harvard for me not to choose it, but I didn’t hate Harvard. From the moment I stepped onto the campus, I had that gut feeling that this was it, and that feeling only grew. Everyone I met was incredibly smart and friendly. Harvard has law school only dormitories and apartments, as well as its own dining hall and gym—and the food is fantastic. Everything is so close together. The mock class I attended, the real class I sat in on, and all my interactions with the professors told me I would have every opportunity I want now and some more that I don’t yet know I want. Also, I really liked Cambridge. Like really liked it. And so did Mopsy. The law school is on its own little campus inside the larger university campus, but right outside the gates is Harvard Square, and right around the block is a Mike’s Pastries (I’ve always wanted to live in the North End of Boston because of Mike’s Pastries, so this is just an added bonus).

 

And so I made my choice. I thought it would be a really difficult decision, but in fact, when it came down to it, it was pretty easy. I firmly believe that things work out the way they’re supposed to, and that your gut feeling is really important when making these kinds of decisions.

 

And so a journey I started a year and a half ago has come to its conclusion, or really, I should say it has come to another beginning. I have made my decision, and I have made it official: in the fall, Mopsy and I will be attending Harvard Law School.

What I Learned at the Disabilities Rights Center

Last October, after I took the LSAT, I started volunteering at the New Hampshire Disabilities Rights Center. I wrote about this a bit before Christmas, but now I’ve worked there for six months, and yesterday was my last day. I’m about to embark on the epic road trip of visiting law schools, and after that, my landlady and landlord from Italy are coming to visit, but I was very sad to be leaving.

 

I’ve had plenty of experiences where I’ve learned so much in a short time—not just in terms of knowledge but also in terms of myself—and these six months were no exception. I learned a ton, so much, it’s difficult to quantify.

 

I performed research—of the legal sort as well as your garden variety google searches. I learned how to find and read federal and state laws. I learned all sorts of new words, like “pursuant” and “furtherance.” And I researched and wrote a brochure on service animals and the Air Carrier Access Act as well as an article on the rights of students with traumatic brain injuries.

 

After Christmas, I worked with the Help America Vote Act team. We worked on publicizing the new accessible voting machines. We also wrote a pamphlet on creating an accessible campaign—through events, website design, and mailings—and contacted all the campaigns, planned monitoring visits of polling places all over the state to get feedback on the new machines and to check on basic accessibility requirements, and coordinated with the national organization RespectAbility to get people with disabilities to campaign events and to get disabilities rights issues on the table. I even got to do all investigation—by which I mean call a bunch of town clerks, ask them about absentee ballots that weren’t counted because of mismatched signatures, and hope they were honest with me. It was all super fun.

 

I also got to observe several stages of a case concerning denied eligibility of services, from its preparation and filed motions to the pre-hearing conference and the hearing itself. I worked on several stages of a different case myself, drafting Right to Know letters—the New Hampshire state equivalent of a FOIA request—and then I read, organized, and cataloged all the evidence we received from those requests—the discovery part of the case.

 

I did research for our policy director that he used in meetings with the state legislature. I reviewed specific facility policies and compared them to state laws regarding seclusion and restraint practices, and then I drafted a letter highlighting the areas where the facility was out-of-compliance. Finally, I learned about the immensely complicated and scary process of legislative history. (It became much less scary once I found my way to the state library where a lovely librarian found everything for me.) Basically, I went back into the history of a 1947 state law and read the original bills and the notes in the House and Senate journals for the original law and then several relevant amendments, all of this in order to determine the law’s intent. Legislative history is something, I’m told, that most law students don’t do until their second or third year.

 

So yeah, I did a ton, and I learned, and I’ll probably be starting law school in the fall with a bit of a head start. But my experience at the DRC gave me more than that. I had so much fun going to work every day, because every day I was working on something different and learning something new. I loved having lunch with all the attorneys and hearing about what they were working on and how they planned to approach it. And I will be forever grateful for all the support and advice they gave me as I went through the application process for law school, received all my acceptances, and began working my way towards a decision (a decision I still haven’t made yet, hence the epic road trip of visiting law schools I’ll be starting next week).

 

But it’s even more than that. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again many more times, but a year ago, I was absolutely miserable—the rejections for the MFA programs I’d applied to were piling up, I’d decided I didn’t want to get a masters in comparative literature after all, I was not really enjoying teaching, and on the whole I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. Somehow, I clawed my way out of that mess of disappointment and uncertainty, and I took all the experiences I’d had and decided I wanted to go to law school. I put all my energy into studying for the LSAT and applying for law school. But at the same time, in just the last few months, everything I thought I wanted to do with my life had been turned on its ear, and right then I wasn’t sure I could trust that my decision to go to law school was really right for me. What if I hated it? What if I discovered something else I liked more? What if I was just unhappy right here and right now but I was still giving up on all my dreams? But after just a week at the DRC, I was confident, and that confidence has only grown over the last six months. Now, I am absolutely sure I am on a path to a career that matters to me and that I will enjoy every minute of. Now, I just have to pick a law school.