If you’ve been following our blog, you’ll note that Jessica Watkin (Festival Administrator extraordinaire) has been a frequent contributor of late. It’s a fact that’s easy enough to glean through observance. Something that’s not quite as simple to understand through sight alone is the fact that Jess Watkin has none. Sight, I mean. Actually that’s not entirely true — she has a little, but it is limited because Jess Watkin is legally blind.
I met Jess in our second year of University in Judith Thompson’s playwriting class. As anyone who has ever taken a class with Judith knows, a sort of “ice-breaker”/”get the juices flowing” introduction she likes to lead everyone in on the first day is her famous moment of transformation exercise. Basically she shares with the class a moment when her worldview was shifted in some way – big or small – and then everyone else is to follow suit. Although this can be nerve-racking, it’s ultimately a brilliant way to bond people together and a hands-on approach to understanding the power of storytelling. You can seriously tell a story as simple as the day you realized coffee was the best thing in the entire world. Organically though, everyone tends to delve a little (or a lot) deeper than that. By the end of that first class you feel like you know the people you’re surrounded by in a new way — and you do.
Like Vegas, what happens in the lecture room stays there. Not because you get kicked out of school or your hair catches on fire or you get hit by a bus if you tell, but because a sort of natural, deep-seated respect develops between each human involved in the swapping of those personal tales. We all laugh and cry and sneeze together. Well we don’t ALL sneeze, but someone inevitably does – there are a lot of people in university classes – and when it’s all over everyone feels relieved and inspired. If nothing else, walking away from a first day of any Judith Thompson class imbues one with a big, fat sense of awareness that every person you meet is dealing with something — oftentimes something you’d have no idea about. Jess told her story on the first day of this class, and by the end of it I think all 70-something of us were swimming. Yes, swimming. Because the room was filled with the salty water of everyone’s tears. Jess’s story is a terrifying and powerful one, which she told through shakey hands and teary eyes and a big, big smile, which is her favourite accessory.
Anyway, I took a note from Jess after she wrote this post about her grandmother. Muses don’t have to be celebrities or world-reknowned heroes — they can be (and often are) everyday people doing amazing things. Jess definitely fits into this category. I watch her inspire on a nearly-daily basis (because I don’t see her every day), and I am constantly in awe of her independence, her perserverance and her honesty. Anyone who knows Jess would attest to her constant emanation of these attributes.
She recently did this podcast for the CBC, so instead of rambling on and on about her, I am going to leave this here and let you listen to her loveliness on your own.