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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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.

Artium Bark-alaurei

Six years ago, just after I met my sidekick, we went to Kenyon College. We spent four years there, studying mostly English literature, creative writing, and Italian, though there was some astronomy, calculus, anthropology, and even a political science class thrown in there. I participated in class too—my sidekick says I’m quite vocal with my grumbling—but only when I felt the class discussion really needed it. We played in the band—my sidekick on the clarinet, and me leading the dogophone section. We made wonderful friends, and we played Humans versus Zombees and were tributes in the Kenyon Hunger Games—actually, I just watched my sidekick do those things, because she’s crazy, while my other people gave me scratches. My sidekick and her friends also did this thing where they sat around in a circle and told stories and then talked about the stories (I didn’t really get it, but I liked listening to all the stories).

 

Then, after four years at Kenyon, we graduated. That’s what my sidekick called it, anyway. As far as I could tell, they got all of us into a big room, there was a lot of talking and sitting and standing and sitting again, and then we lined up and walked across a stage, and my sidekick and I were each given a piece of paper, and then more sitting and standing, and then we were packing up all our things and getting in the car and my sidekick was crying and I didn’j know what was going on. Also, I had to wear a robe and a stupid flat hat that kept falling in my eyes. The piece of paper was important, because both mine and my sidekick’s are now in frames. I didn’t know what was going on that day, but now I know that I received a degree from Kenyon College. “Artium Bark-alaurei,” my diploma says. My sidekick’s says something different, I guess because she’s my sidekick and she can’t bark.

 

My sidekick told me that we were off on a new adventure, but we would come back to Kenyon. Only, we didn’t. Instead, we went to Italy. Some of my people from Kenyon did come to say hi while we were there—they were studying in England that year—and then more of them came to say hi when we were back in the United States and working at the Disability Rights Center.

 

Then, last weekend, we returned to Kenyon to celebrate with a bunch of our people who were getting their Artium Bark-alaurei. I was so happy to be back and to play with all my friends again. I knew where I was going, and I knew the way to all my sidekick’s favorite places. I was sad that she wouldn’t let me go to my favorite place—the dining hall (she said it would be too crowded, and she was probably right). But we did go to all the ceremonies, and I stood and sat and covered my ears with my paws when the people behind us blasted us with their air horn without warning.

 

It was a great weekend, but I could tell that everyone was having lots of feelings—the same feelings my sidekick and I had when we left Kenyon two years ago. We even felt those feelings again, because with most of our friends off to new places, we weren’t sure when we’d be coming back ourselves. And it was sure something to walk the paths we’d walked for four years and no that in the time since we left, we have become completely different, my sidekick and I. I’ve learned, a little unfortunately, that the outside world is not as safe as Gambier, Ohio, and that not everyone likes me and wants to let me come inside with my sidekick like they’re supposed to. And my sidekick has convinced me that our talents will be put to better use defending the world from villains who don’t understand the rights of people with disabilities. (I was getting bored with Italian literature, honestly. Do you know how weird some of those books are?) Still, I could tell that my sidekick was a little sad, being back at Kenyon. She felt like she’d gone off into the world, and the world had systematically crushed all her dreams, and now she was back here, and nothing she’d wanted then had worked out the way she’d hoped.

 

But that isn’t true. Okay, there was a fair amount of dream crushing that happened, for both of us, but that isn’t why we’re going to law school. We’re going to law school because our dreams changed, and that doesn’t negate the dreams we had or even mean they’re impossible. There are still plenty of adventures to be had. And another reason why we were so moved by the graduation ceremony, we’re about to start the first: Harvard Law School, or as I see it, our training to confront evil villains and save the world. Also, I want a framed juris dog-torate degree from Harvard Law School on my office wall, right next to my Artium Bark-alaurei from Kenyon College.

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.