The workshop pieces arrived via email and I got to work, using my Braille Sense U2 to read and read and read and write comments for each one. There were eight or nine of them, from picture books to chapters of middle-grade and young adult novels. I worked for hours every day, seven days a week. It would be easy for me to fall behind if I didn’t work hard. This set the stage for my working pace over the course of the next two intense years — four semesters and five ten-day residencies.
I found it fascinating to read other people’s writing. I got to know each workshop member through his or her story. I created sign names for fellow workshoppers according to the stories they wrote. My ASL interpreters used the sign names when interpreting workshop discussions for me.
That first residency, the assistant dean agreed to rent a golf cart so I could get around on campus. He said it would be handy for the program, too. And as it turned out, the golf carts were rented during the summer residencies during my time at Hamline.
I would load my rollator and bag with my Braille sense in it. A graduate aid or one of my interpreter crew members or a SSP (Support Service Provider, a trained person who assists people who are deaf-blind to access the community) would drive me around on campus. Hamline University campus is lovely in summer and the sunshine felt good after long hours of workshops and lectures.
I arrived on campus for new student orientation. After a full afternoon of lectures, we gathered for a simple meal and a meeting. There were fourteen of us new students and most would graduate with me. My class of July 2017 consisted of women and several were interested in learning ASL. I always felt respected and welcome when I joined class meetings throughout the next four residencies. They made sure I was involved in the happenings related to our Hamline life. Even now two years since graduation, my classmates still keep me informed through email.
One of the best parts of my Hamline experience was working one-on-one with a faculty advisor. All faculty members are published authors of children’s books. Each semester, I had a different advisor and we did all work through email. My advisor would write comments on the writing I submitted and I learned so much from each of my four advisors.
Another favorite part of my experience was the manuscript workshops during each of the five residencies. I completed reading workshop pieces before residency and wrote comments. With my ASL interpreter crew, I was able to fully participate in workshop discussions.
I sat close to one of my interpreters with my hands on the back of hers, following her signs as she interpreted what fellow workshoppers said. My back and shoulders ached, but being so absorbed in the discussion, I didn’t think about my discomfort. I felt like one of them, like I belonged. I almost forgot that I was deaf-blind.
At the fourth residency, a fifteen to twenty minute student presentation is required in order to graduate. This is usually based on the fifteen to twenty page critical essay required during third semester. I was nervous. Most students in the MFAC program used PowerPoint to help them with their student presentations. How was I going to manage a PowerPoint presentation when I couldn’t see what was on the screen? My ASL interpreter crew even offered to set-up the bullets for me because I was overwhelmed with the braille technology I needed to use to write PowerPoint bullets.
At the end, I opted to do it the old-fashioned way — write lecture notes and save them in my Braille Sense. I wanted to be in control of my lecture. I practiced and practiced, reading my notes, going over my lecture, until I knew it by heart. I had elected to write my critical essay on tactile picture books and the sense of touch. For my presentation, I borrowed three tactile picture books from the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind to pass out to the audience for hands-on material. And I emailed copies of my lecture notes to my three crew members so they’d know what I planned to present.
But to complicate things, I fell and broke my ankle the first day of that residency. Despite the pain, I remained at the residency. I couldn’t imagine quitting and going home. That meant having to postpone graduation and I was so close, just one semester left.
Five days after residency started and since I broke my ankle, I was scheduled to give my presentation. I sat in a wheelchair at a table facing the audience (which were students and faculty), with my Braille Sense in front of me. Meghan stood behind me, signing audiences’ responses on my back. Claire sat beside me with my lecture notes displayed for her on her little laptop screen. She signed audience’s questions and comments. I began my lecture with an exercise. I told them to close their eyes and touch things in front of them to familiarize themselves with their sense of touch. I went on with my talk, but at one point, my mind went blank. Claire prompted me a few times and my lecture popped back into my head. Near the end, a classmate passed out the borrowed books. Concluding my lecture, I received a standing ovation from the audience.
Thanks to the citizens of the state of Minnesota for their tax dollars, I was able to participate in the MFAC program. And to the faculty who went out of their way to assist me. Being a MFAC student at Hamline University was one of the most exhilarating, rewarding, challenging experiences in my life.
Christy Reid lives in Faribault, MN with her husband, two of their sons, and their cats. She earned a MFA In Writing for Children And Young Adults in July, 2019 at Hamline University. Follow her on twitter: @bluebellbuzzard.