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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Doggy Law School

Our first semester of law school is drawing to a close. In a few hours, we will be taking our first ever law school exam. Well, when I say “we,” I really mean that my sidekick will be typing furiously, and I’ll be there to provide heroic cuddles when she inevitably realizes that she hasn’t talked about the Erie Doctrine so she must have missed something.

 

It’s been quite a semester, and not the most tail-wagging semester ever either. We know we haven’t posted a lot, but it was mostly studying studying studying, and I didn’t want to bore you because I’m bored.

 

We have had some exciting adventures in Boston and Cambridge though. My sidekick went kayaking on the Charles and to see fireworks, but she left me behind for both of those, which was probably a good idea because I don’t like water and it was a tippy kayak. We’ve explored Harvard Square some, and we went to see the tree lighting in Boston before Thanksgiving. Also, our section, which is the best section in the history of Harvard Law School sectiondom, won the 1L cup, which was like a bunch of contests like egg-toss and pie-eating contests (my sidekick would not let me participate in that one), and a three-legged race where my sidekick lost a fight with the ground and almost broke her leg. The ground has this sneaky sidekick called gravity.

 

And of course we’ve learned law. Lots and lots of law. I don’t pay attention to a lot of it, but I have picked up some useful doggy pointers.

 

For example, if I throw my bone at my person, with desire or purpose or knowledge with substantial certainty that the bone will hit her, then that is an intentional battery. And if I manage to hit the leg that almost broke in her fight with the ground, I am responsible for all the consequences, whatever they may be. On the other hand, if I throw my bone, even if I’m not trying to hit my sidekick, but it’s foreseeable that I hit her, and I do hit her, I was negligent. Good thing my sidekick loves me and would never ever sue me.

 

Also, finders keepers is an actual real thing. Sort of. Someone who finds something someone else lost can keep it. The finder has rights to possess the lost thing against everybody except the true owner. So if the true owner shows up and says “Hey that’s mine,” the finder does have to give it back, but otherwise it’s theirs. So if my person drops her cookie, and I get it, it’s mine. Unless she grabs me fast enough and tells me to spit it out. Then I have to listen. It’s the law.

 

Next, I learned that because I’m a super special service puppy, I get to ignore all the no-pets rules. I already knew that, but now I know how to interpret the laws that say I’m a super special service puppy. I can study the text, and Congress’s purpose, and I can even look at how the agency enacted specific regulation about the statute and whether they did that right.

 

And finally, when we learned about federal jurisdiction in civil procedure, I learned how to make a well-pleaded complaint.

Mopsy lying at Jameyanne's feet in civil procedure class. Mopsy looks sad, and text above her head reads "Please: No More Class!"
Photo by James Sasso

 

The problem, of course, is that once I received a judgment as a matter of law and class ended last week, my person became very stationary and very intense about all the studying. And now here we are, on the brink of exams, almost finished with our first semester. We’ve learned a lot and made some fabulous friends. We are very nervous about exams, but we’ve defeated worse villains. We are very much in need of sleep and a good wrestling match with my rope and some good walks that aren’t to classrooms or the library. And we will get them. For a bit anyway. But first, we need to go kick civil procedure’s butt. Wish us luck.

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.

Welcome

I am a law student by day, writer by night. Sometimes I sleep. This site is mostly about the writing, with other fun things thrown in.

 

Recent site updates:

Added “The Story Behind Seven Signs Your Roommate Is a Vampire” page

Added the “Tails of the Neutron Star” category. You can access all the posts about Neutron in the categories menu on the left. You can also get to all the “Mopsy the Magnificent” posts there as well.

Updated book recs page with my favorite books of 2016.

 

A Seeing Eye Superdog’s Guide to Orientation and Mobility

My sidekick is packing up our boxes. She’s packing up my food bowls and scavenging under the bed for my favorite toys (I’ve been wondering where that bone got to). She hasn’t packed my bed yet, but it’s coming. And I’m sticking close to her, because I need to be sure she doesn’t forget me. This is really happening, everybody. Next week, we will be moving to Cambridge to start at Harvard Law School. I am wagging my whole butt and grumbling in excitement. But packing isn’t all we’ve done to prepare. For the past two months, we’ve been doing orientation and mobility all over Harvard and Cambridge.

 

For those who don’t know, orientation and mobility is when a blind person is taught the basic layout of a new area, because you know, they can’t read signs and stuff, and that’s not part of my job description as superdog. If a blind person learns their way around, then they can get around pretty much independently. It’s a good thing. See, it’s my job to stop my sidekick from falling down stairs or smacking into tree branches or getting hit by cars, that sort of thing. It is not my job to know where to go. My sidekick decides which way to turn. She decides when to cross the street—I’ll stop her if she’s wrong, but most of the time she’s right, and when she’s wrong it’s because some stupidhead who’s not looking decided to cut us off at the last minute (sometimes I wonder who’s really blind in this situation). It’s true, I will learn the places we go to a lot, like our dorm room or where the food’s at, and if my sidekick overshoots, I’ll give her knee a nudge with my nose—like, hey, we want to go here, don’t we?—but generally it’s up to her.

 

My sidekick and I have been doing O and M together for six years now, so we have a lot of practice. Right after we went home from the Seeing Eye, we went out to Ohio and learned our way around Kenyon College, where we would spend the next four years. We started with Middle path—the path that runs from one end of campus to the other—and we worked outward from there, learning routes from  my dorm to the dining hall, my classrooms and professors’ offices, and the library. Over our four years at Kenyon, we learned more and more new places and new shortcuts, and by the time we graduated, we had it down.

 

The summer after our first year at college, we went to the Alpha workshop near Pittsburgh. Since it was such a short workshop, and since I would mostly be with the group, it wasn’t as important for us to know the whole campus, but we still spent a day learning the important routes.

 

When we studied abroad in Torino the summer after our second year at Kenyon, we didn’t really have O and M training. Unless you count an hour with an  O and M teacher who didn’t speak good English and we were super jetlagged and still getting used to how fast Italian really was outside the classroom, and I’m not sure I count that. I have to say, this was one of the craziest things we’ve ever done. And we’ve done some crazy things. When we went to Torino, we just went, and I do not recommend that approach, because we had to depend on the other students to not ditch us. Oh, and they ditched us. A lot.

 

When we went to Assisi to start my Fulbright year, we weren’t taking any chances with Italian O and M teachers—even if we had been able to find one, which we weren’t. My sidekick’s mother came with us for the first three weeks. She’s been watching my sidekick’s O and M lessons since she was little, so she knows what she’s doing. In Assisi, of course, everything we thought we knew about safe independent travel was turned on its head, but that’s another story story.

 

A few points about O and M that I feel I have to make, just so you have a better sense of what I’m talking about:

 

First, my sidekick is using her ears to navigate. I’m using my eyes to guide her, but she’s steering this operation. Note: hybrid cars are pure evil, but I’m all over their silent engines—they are not coming near my sidekick and me.

 

Second, we don’t always cross at the light. Remember, it’s not in my job description to read the walk signs. It’s up to my sidekick to decide when to cross, and she’s using her ears (see my first point). If there isn’t an audible pedestrian signal, or the intersection is too loud to hear the audible signal (some of these new ones that talk are way too quiet), or the audible signal is broken, we cross with what’s called the near parallel surge. That’s when the cars that are closest to us and going the same direction as us have a green light. We watch out for cars that are turning, obviously, but this means that no one will be going on the street we’re crossing, because there’s a wall of cars moving across their path. Sometimes, pedestrian lights line up with the parallel traffic, but sometimes they don’t.

 

Third, if there isn’t a sidewalk, I’m trained to walk on the left of the road, so my sidekick and I are facing oncoming traffic. This means I like to walk on the left of a lot of paths, just to keep myself in practice.

 

Fourth, and finally, and sometimes the hardest for other people to understand about how we travel, is that the shortest route is not always the safest for us or the route that allows us to stay most oriented to our surroundings. For example, we will always choose a route with a good sidewalk over one without (at least in America). Also, we tend to favor straight paths that run along the sides of courtyards or greens rather than diagonal cross-paths, at least while we’re still learning an area. As we become more familiar and comfortable, we’ll probably start taking those cross-paths. If we’re with a group, we’ll follow them, but if we’re by ourselves, we’ll do our own thing. And the only reason we’ll be comfortable taking a different route somewhere with a group than the route we might normally travel is if we know where that somewhere is so if we have to, we can get back ourselves independently.

 

So we’ve done this O and M thing a lot, but getting ready for Harvard was different for us. We’ve been to small town Ohio and small town Italy, and even in Torino we mostly stuck to the city center. Here, we have the Harvard Law School campus, and then the larger Harvard University campus, and we also have the surrounding city of Cambridge. And Cambridge means subways, which we have never done independently, and which we were frankly a little nervous about. Like always, we started small, with the law school campus. Then we worked on the larger Harvard University campus, and then we started on Cambridge and the subway. All right, we only sort of theoretically did it in that order, because we started taking the bus and then the T to get to Harvard for practice.

 

Like we always do, my sidekick made tactile maps of the area. She had the map printed on foam board, and then she and her mother used puffy paint to make raised lines and lock dots—these clear raised bubble stickers—to mark important landmarks. Finally, they made Braille labels for everything. They made tactile maps of the law school campus, Cambridge, and the subway—I watched them work and wagged my tail to cheer them on—and then we took our maps on the road.

 

Now, after working hard all summer, we’re comfortable with the law school campus and the Harvard University campus, and we know all the stops on the Red Line by heart and are even familiar with a few of the stations. We are masters of the subway! As we actually start living in Cambridge, we’ll get a good sense of where we actually go and how we get there, and we’ll start to learn more and more of the area. But for now, we’ve got a pretty good sense of where we are, which is what O and M is all about.

 

This is good, because let me tell you, I am getting sick of this walking back and forth or around in circles thing my sidekick insists we do. I got it, doesn’t she? I know, I know, I sometimes get too focused on just getting to our destination, but don’t tell me the journey’s the important part. The most important part is that the journey is safe, and I am totally on top of that. And if we sometimes have to walk back and forth along the same hallway so my sidekick can be two hundred percent sure she’s got a handle on it, I accept that. Sort of. But now that we know where we’re going, let’s go and get there already.

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.

Summer Writing Goals

Since I’ve finished my internship at the Disabilities Rights Center as well as my grand road trip of visiting law schools and the grand tour of the northeast with Stefania and Bruno, I’m taking summer off before law school. With the exception of a trip to Florida for the National Federation of the Blind’s annual national convention this week and the changes to the Braille code I need to learn (more on both those things later), I’m staying home, playing, and writing. After this year, I won’t have another full summer off again for who knows how long. So why not?

 

On the other hand, I don’t do well with no goals or deadlines. I just sort of flop around. In fact, writing-wise at least, I’ve been feeling like I’ve been flopping around a bit for a while. In college, I was part of a writing group that met every week and shared pages from continuing stories. There was pressure—not a ton of pressure because we were pretty laid back about it—but there was pressure to keep writing on the same project and to make progress on that project, because everyone wanted to know how things turned out. It was lots of fun, but it was also great for keeping me focused. And since college, I’ve been finding that I’m missing that focus. I’ve been having a hard time staying focused long enough to actually accomplish anything—or even to feel like I’m accomplishing anything. I feel so scattered, working on so many projects.

 

Here’s the thing. I probably have been making progress on all these projects. It just doesn’t feel like it. And it’s too easy, with so many projects, to avoid any problems I’m having with any of them, because the minute I get stuck, I can switch to something else and not actually address the reason I’m stuck.

 

I think it’s probably okay to be working on multiple projects at once, but I think I would be more productive if I was at different stages in each story—the planning stage in one and the writing stage in another, for example, or writing one and revising another. But when I have three or four things going, and I’m in the beginning of writing all of them, it’s hard to feel like I’m moving forward on any of them, even if I am.

 

Complicating all of this, I’m starting law school in the fall. Everything I’ve heard about the first year of law school is that you have no time to do anything ever. I don’t know how true this is, or how true it will be for me, because I’ve always found time for writing no matter what else I’m doing. But if I’m going to get any writing done in law school, I need to be organized about it. More than that, I need to feel like I’m moving forward, or I won’t be motivated to do anything.

 

So this summer, my goal is to clean up my writing desk—figuratively speaking. Right now, I’m in the middle of four pretty major projects. By the end of the summer, I want to be done with or at a different stage in three of them.

 

The first is a set of seven linked short stories set in my Phoenix Song universe—what I’m calling the world where “Dissonance” is set. I’ve written and revised three of these stories, and I’m partway through a draft of the fourth. By the end of the summer, I want to have a rough draft of all seven.

 

Second is a fan fiction novel I’ve been working on for fun. I’ve never written fan fiction before this. I don’t have anything against fan fiction, I just have so many story ideas of my own that I never had time for it. But I had this great idea and my friends really wanted to read it, and I was sort of blocked on everything I was writing last year, so I thought I’d give it a spin. It’s been a lot of fun, but I still have a ton of my own stories that have been taking a backseat to this, and if I have limited writing time in law school, I want to use it to work on my own original stuff. So by the end of the summer, I want to have completely finished that and gotten it off my plate.

 

Next, I came up with an idea for a sequel to my upper middle grade fantasy novel—the one I’m querying agents about. Actually, if I go ahead with the sequel idea I have, it will be a trilogy. Friends who have been published have advised me that it’s not always a good idea to write a sequel for a book that hasn’t been published, because there’s no guaranteeing that a publisher will want to publish a sequel, and you will have put a whole bunch of work into something that will go nowhere when you could have been working on something else. And again, upcoming limited writing time. My novel could definitely stand on its own, but I have an idea for a sequel that I love. So I started an outline to clarify my idea and make sure it is in fact a viable story—and assuming I get that far, I’ll need to pitch the idea to people with a reasonable amount of coherency. I don’t have any intention of writing the sequel yet, but I want to finish the outline and then outline the third book by the end of the summer.

 

This leaves my memory-wiping academy novel, which I decided earlier this year that I want to expand and split into four books. The first draft, which I finished just before I graduated college, was designed as a test to see if I could write the plot of a young adult trilogy into one book. The answer is yes, I could, but the book was one hundred sixty thousand words—which is way too long if you didn’t know that—and that’s when I glossed over a lot that I wanted to explore deeper. Plus I had a lot of extra plot I left out because I started panicking about the length. And also there were a bunch of plot holes that come from being one of my first drafts. So I started on that around Christmas but didn’t get very far (because of all the other stuff I’ve been working on). This revision will be my project in law school.

 

It’s a lot to get done this summer, but I write fast, and I’m pretty sure I can accomplish most of it. But I better stop talking about it and get writing.

Puppy On a Mission

It is hot. Really hot. But this morning, I still woke up my sidekick by jumping onto her face and licking her ears. Just like I did almost exactly six years ago when we first met. My sidekick says she can’t believe I’m eight years old. I’m still the same crazy bouncy puppy I was when I was two, apparently.

 

That’s right. Today’s my birthday! I’m eight years old today. Wow!

 

And no I don’t feel any different than I did yesterday.

 

All this year, whenever I take over my sidekick’s blog, I’ve been talking about what we’re doing in the present and connecting it back to things that happened to us before she started letting me write for myself. Today, though, I want to talk about what happened to me before I met my sidekick.

 

Eight years ago, I was born at the Seeing Eye. From the beginning, they told me I was a special puppy. I wouldn’t spend my days chasing down tennis balls or cuddling up in my person’s lap. I would be trained to do all sorts of important work, because the person I would get when I was done training couldn’t see. It would be my job to guide my new person anywhere she needed to go.

 

When I was old enough to leave my mother, I went to a family in Pennsylvania. The little girl in that family took care of me and started my training. I learned to sit and stay and lie down and come when I was told. I learned to park (that’s the Seeing Eye dog word for doing my business) outside. I learned to walk nicely on a leash. I got to go all sorts of places—like school and on the boardwalk—so that when I started my real training, I wouldn’t be scared by crowds or loud noises. I don’t really remember this, but when my sidekick trained at the Seeing Eye with me, they gave her a paper that said all this. It also said that I like squeaky toys, that when I’m really happy I’ll pick up my bed and bring it to you with my tail wagging my whole butt, and that when I have a bone everybody should duck because I’m probably going to throw it (this is all still true).

 

Just after I turned one, I went back to the Seeing Eye. At the Seeing Eye, trainers work with a string of dogs for four months and then they spend another month in class training the dogs with their new people. So I trained for four months. I learned to stop at curbs and steps, to go around obstacles like poles and hanging tree branches, and not to let my person cross the street if there’s a car in front of her (that’s called intelligent disobedience). It wasn’t my job to know where I was going. My sidekick would know where we were going. It was my job to get her there safely.

 

Then my trainer went up to New Hampshire to do a juno walk with a girl who was applying for a Seeing Eye dog. A juno walk is when the blind person holds the handle of the harness, and the trainer holds the part of the harness that is usually on the dog, and the trainer measures things like how fast the person walks, how much pull they want on the harness, how tall they are, stuff like that. My trainer came back to Seeing Eye, and she told me she’d found the perfect sidekick for me. I would have to wait for her, though, because she was still in high school, and she had to finish before she could come get me. So I did four more months of training, just to make sure I wouldn’t forget anything. I turned two. And four days later, I met my sidekick.

 

We trained at Seeing Eye together for a month. Then I went home with her, and we’ve been together ever since.

 

That summer, I was guiding my sidekick into the market when we passed a little kid and their mother. Like all small children when they see me, this little kid cried, “Puppy! Mommy, look, puppyyyyyyyy!”

 

When it comes to what parents say to their kids about me, I’ve heard it all. “That puppy is helping her,” is a common one. So is, “That’s a blind puppy,” to which my sidekick always replies “I sure hope not.” But this mother said, “That puppy’s on a mission.”

 

Best response ever.

 

Because I am on a mission. My sidekick and I have been all over the world together, and it has always been my mission to keep her safe and lead her where she needs to go, whether that was getting to class on time and navigating the dining hall at Kenyon or dodging maniacs with motor vehicles in Italy. Three years ago, my mission became more important when my sidekick lost her right eye, but I stepped up to that challenge too. And now we’re off on another adventure: law school! We’re already learning our way around Cambridge and practicing the subway routes. Adventure awaits! But for now, I’m going to play with my new squeaky football. Or maybe eat a bone.