As Us

A Space for Writers of the World

Vanessa Dion Fletcher—Nonfiction

To my teachers,

Hole: an area where something is missing
Whole: something that is complete in it’s self

As much as I enjoy developing and sharing my thoughts and ideas, for me writing is seldom an enjoyable task. It makes me anxious and it makes me sad. I sit down to write and am frozen. I stare at the page, at the screen and am filled with memories from 19 years of school, and 13 years of professional work. “I can’t understand you” “you need to be careful” “don’t be lazy” “your writing is too difficult to read” “why can’t you spell?” Red marks scratched across the page make my words invalid.

People like to say – “things get better,” “there are accommodations”, “advocate for yourself”,  “have a conversation with your teacher”. But it always happens; it always slips through. My difference. My difference is invisible, until it is staring you in the face. It makes you uncomfortable. It makes you have to think harder. It slows you down. It makes you think I am lazy, carless, and naive. You’re filled with paternalistic impulses to help. You’re filled with concern. You say things like, “what about when you leave here? When you enter the real world, it will not be accepting of your difference, you won’t be able to get a job or be a professional unless you learn now.” Is an academic environment not real? I have been working and negotiation my disability in academic and professional settings for my entire life. I know better then any one what is required of me to operate in these settings.

I am not lazy. I am not careless. I am a student with a learning disability. I am your student committed to learning from and with you. I sometimes make choices about how much time I can put into an assignment. It’s not always as much as I would like. But these are choices that all students make. The difference is I have to decide whether I am going to put my time and energy into thinking about a topic, reading another chapter, reflecting and developing my ideas or editing my words. Some times I choose my intellectual development over my copy-editing.

Sometimes I risk it. It is a risk to let my self be who I am on the page, to reveal my disability, to revel my difference. I can hide it. I’ve learned ways that are almost perfectly effective at making my mind and my words conform. When I do this people appreciate me more. They say, “I am a good and concise writer”. They like my ideas. They are comfortable and accept me.

My mind cannot be bisected. My ideas and thoughts come from an experience and a way of thinking and communicating that is not deemed normal or acceptable. It will not change. I will not learn to spell. My brain function will not miraculously change. I have learned many coping strategies. These strategies are useful. They have allowed me to find success in writing. They have allowed me to publish. These accomplishments disappear in an instant. The moment I risk exposing an unedited me, there is no patience or appreciation of difference, there is only judgment.

I was born in Newmarket, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto. I always knew that I was not a Canadian of European ancestry. In school I heard stories of immigration and the celebration of settler history and I knew that I was not a part of that history. I knew what I wasn’t. But the colonial project of forced assimilation makes it very hard to recognize my self as I am – an indigenous woman. I had very little access to education that would allow me to know my identity and to be proud of that identity. However, I was able to learn by listening to indigenous people introduce themselves in their indigenous languages. In these introductions it is common practice to identify your Nation and gender. In hearing women introduce themselves in this way, I understood their pride in who they are as indigenous women. These glimpses of Native languages made me aware that there were other systems that I had little access to.

English is my first language, it is my only language, it is not my language. My first word was mama.  I learned to speak to say I love you. It was when I started school when language was taken out of my mouth and put onto the page that I started to understand it as a system. A complex system I could not control, and was constantly failing at. Language was used to alienate and oppress my family, my ancestors, and in this continues when it is used to oppress me. The first word I learned in Lenape was ‘kawinganoowl’looma’ ‘I am glad to see you’. I learned to say ‘katawalill’ ‘I love you’ I learned to say ‘Anushiik’ Thank you. In the classroom we meticulously sort out our thoughts and ideas through language and writing. We share and exchange little pieces of our knowledge and ourselves, words in the air and words on the page. Language is not neutral. It lives in our bodies and our memories, our imaginations.

Vanessa Dion Fletcher uses porcupine quills, Wampum belts and menstrual blood to reveal the complexities of what defines a body physically and culturally. She links these ideas to personal experiences with language, fluency and understanding. All of these themes are brought together in the context of her Potawatomi and Lenape ancestry, and her learning disability caused by a lack of short-term memory. “Relationship or Transaction, a replica of the twenty-four nations confederacy wampum belt toured Southern Ontario as part of the exhibition Reading the Talk. Her work is held in the Indigenous Art Center Collection, Gateau Quebec. In 2016 Dion Fletcher graduated from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago with an MFA in Performance.

Countdown to Launch

Issue 3February 14, 2014
Online version of Issue 3 goes live!

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