Beyond the Pencil

I really enjoy getting lost in the messiness of characters and their worlds. As a child I carried books where I went. This love has transferred over to writing and now I create my own characters and storylines for others to enjoy. However, I have constantly been told English isn’t an interest which will further me in life, and that it’s impractical because I wouldn’t be able to read anything I publish due to my blindness. When I wanted to take Grade 12 Creative Writing and Literature I was promptly reminded that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the “normal” kids, as students were expected to complete a copious amount of reading and write a 50-page book. So, I put writing on the backburner and was hesitant to take English classes entering the University of the Fraser Valley. One semester, I decided to take a few English classes as electives out of simple interest.

When I started my classes I thought about writing as nature scenes and when others talk about it, they focused on depictions of sunsets or rainbows. For my first in-class piece, I remember texting people asking questions about colours and visual details, feeling as if I was missing details about the world because I’m blind. It wasn’t until later I began accepting this so-called weakness. When bringing up my feelings with some classmates, it was the wake-up call I needed. As readers, they have continuously read descriptions of sunsets and mountains and were seeking a change in perspective. So why was I trying hard to be like every other writer? Shouldn’t I listen to my professors and develop my own voice and style? I don’t need to eliminate imagery altogether, but I can keep reading book after book while conducting research as many writers do.

Once invested in my English program, I became involved in extra-curricular activities related to Creative Writing. I started discovering events and meeting the board of the Creative Writing Student Association of UFV (CreWri UFV). I attended an event with a friend and the entire team displayed an inclusive environment. When joining a game of Mad Libs, the team read out the story and each word that was needed, giving me a feel for the atmosphere of the Association. Realizing an opening on the Executive Board needed to be filled, I chose to apply. I’ve been serving as the Secretary since. Through my time with the Association, I’ve learned that diversity and equity are a large part of our beliefs. In fact, my team holds the same standards for me as everyone else, such as holding me responsible for raising concerns for visual tasks involving image files rather than avoid them entirely.

Most recently, I had the confidence to get involved with UFV’s literary magazine the “Louden Singletree,” since I had already made strides in getting further involved regardless of the past comments made about my blindness and writing. My work has been published in the magazine, causing me concern about being unable to read my published work. My friends were eagerly flipping to the page their piece was on to delight in their own published works, but I couldn’t do that.

However, my friends made sure I wasn’t left out by giving me a beautiful description of the coyote on the cover, and running my finger over my poem to show me how it was laid out, demonstrating that I could still visualize my work. Even now as I am on the Board for this year, our supervisor responded to me with the mindset that a formal accommodation letter wouldn’t be necessary, reminding me that I don’t need to prove my disability, and that someone in the professional field is disproving the myth that I won’t be able to keep up. As a result of my confidence growing, I have acquired a position as the Co-Social Media and Recruitment lead with a new magazine called “Kahaani Poets” whose mission is to amplify the voices of poets and artists of marginalized genders in the South Asian diaspora, and I am certain if it wasn’t for me pushing the limited expectations of society it wouldn’t have been possible.

Even though many people have been telling me that I am unable to keep up, I am even more grateful that I got roped into the program. If I didn’t take the chances I did, I would be validating society’s assumptions about my blindness. Yes, I still have questions and worries, but perhaps it is my job to ask those questions of my instructors and no matter how uncomfortable I might think it is, I will be the one trailblazing and paving the path for those who come after me. All I expect of instructors is to put the “creative” in creative writing and look beyond the cover of my book and beyond my unsharpened pencil.

By Harjinder Saran (Jinnie)