Creativity, Disability, and Adaptation: My Personal Journey

Physical disability happens in one of three ways – a slow descent, a sudden impact, or a strange mix of the two. My experience has been the third. I’ve been chronically ill for nearing two decades. Hey, it happens, and a lot of people live perfectly normal lives with chronic illness. That was me until Saint Patrick’s Day, 2015, when one of those sudden impact events ended my teaching career. No, I’m not talking about an automobile accident or anything of that nature. Rather, my body decided that the war it had been waging on itself for the past decade-plus wasn’t enough, so it overwhelmed me with renewed force.

In short, I had a medication reaction that affected my nervous system and, at that moment, my immune system recognized my nervous system as a new enemy.

     This is when all hell broke loose.

Fast forward to 2019. Yep, I’m still here. Still fighting. But my life has most certainly changed. First off. Yeah, I’m disabled. Very much so. What have I lost? A lot, but I’m not going into detail. Suffice to say that like with MS (not among my diagnoses) I have progressive wiring issues.

One of my docs used the analogy of rats chewing on wires, those rats being my immune system. And we can do nothing but try to slow the damage.

Needless to say, I have a lot going on, but in this post I’d like to concentrate on what I can still do. My creative drive is very much intact. I was a writer and artist before this all began and I still am, but the tools I use have changed. That’s what I want to concentrate on in this post, so let’s break this down a bit, shall we?

 

For writing:

  • Paper notebooks then (meaning before 2015): I wrote the first draft of my first novel by hand (2000) and wrote scenes, notes, and ideas by hand until 2015. My handwriting has never been flowery, but it’s always been legible. I had teacher-style, blocky handwriting until… you guessed it. All hell broke loose.
  • Paper notebooks now: quick, sloppy notes that I sometimes can’t read later; the same goes for my grocery lists. I can still write block style if I write larger and go very slowly, but who wants to do that on the fly?
  • Adaptation for notebooks: The junk file – see below

 

For art:

  • Line drawing then: Pen and ink and charcoal were my thing. I excelled at them in my undergrad minor and still have them in my portfolio.
  • Line drawing now: I have lost this skill. Period. It’s gone, dammit. I have too much of a tremor. Dammit again. Pen and ink/ charcoal are unforgiving media.
  • Adaptation: Digital mosaic – see below

 

Computer setup:

  • Then: Desktop – this worked fine, though I moved to a laptop in 2013 because my feet had started to swell in the evenings.
  • Now: Desktop? What’s that?
  • Adaptations: Gray Ghost, Snappy, and The Chair – see below

 

Computer Writing App Setup:

  • Then: My vision wasn’t the best, but Times New Roman 12 Font at 120% was good.
  • Now: Another dammit, dammit.
  • Adaptations: Lucinda, Rachel, and a 180 – see below

 

Adaptations

(Note: these are adaptations that work for me. These will not work for everyone nor do I speak for everyone.)

The Junk File:

I always keep MS Word open on my computer, even if it’s just one file. This file, my junk file, is where I write all my Facebook posts, Twitter posts, jot ideas, make notes, rough out scenes… you name it, it goes there. And yes, I often save it out as Junk File on my desktop. I sometimes delete it and begin again, but my junk file is my digital notebook.

The Digital Mosaic:

While some people use a single digital design program to create digital art, I use multiple programs, most of them free, with Canva being the lone exception. Why don’t I use something like Photoshop? Two reasons: First off, price. Geez, that’s an expensive program, and I live on a fixed income. Secondly, the learning curve. Photoshop takes years to learn, and I have minor short term memory problems thanks to my wiring issues. This makes remembering the click-this-drag-that combination rather impossible, so I’m always a first time user. This is very frustrating inside a large program. I manage this problem much better inside smaller programs where I can find my way around in moments rather than months.

And, no, I don’t draw digitally. Again, tremors. I can’t draw a straight line to save my life, and it’s frustrating trying to correct such errors. That said, I’ve taken to doing what I call digital mosaic. I design using (legally) obtained imagery. Jpgs, pngs, etc. if I can get hold of it with proper rights, I might well use it. I create ads, covers… I love this form of creativity. It’s given me a viable outlet. No, it isn’t the same as drawing original work, but it makes original creations that are very satisfying indeed. (Stares at her tablet. You and me, bud, we’re going to work out our issues, and I’m going to use you in some form or fashion. Just you wait.)

The Gray Ghost:

This is my nickname for my notebook computer. It has a 17” screen, is graphics capable, and I enlarge most everything on it to fit my visual needs, including icons and text, but more on that later. Oh, and Gray Ghost has a touchpad because the standard computer mouse and I are on the permanent outs.

Snappy:

This is my tongue-in-cheek name for my lap desk because it does indeed bite if you don’t open and close it correctly (I suffered bruises and blood blisters before I learned to manage its quirks). Snappy is large enough to hold Gray Ghost securely in The Chair.

The Chair:

I can no longer sit at a desk to work, so I use an oversized recliner that supports my back, which eases my tremors. I can also keep my feet raised because swelling is still an issue.

Lucinda:

Lucinda Bright size fourteen is my font of choice these days because it’s so easy to read. I both write and edit in it. But, no, my end results are never in this font.

Rachel:

Rachel is my favorite voice choice in Natural Reader, a program that will read back whatever you’ve written or online content. Yes, I know there are freebie versions of such things, including on Word, but if you use those for any length of time they become a drone to the ears. Natural Reader gives some eighteen English voices to choose from and fifty voices total, so I use the program heavily for editing both my own and others’ works. And, yes, I use it for reading online content when I’m having an exceptionally bad vision day. There are two versions of this program – downloaded and online. I use the latter because all the voices are included in the cost. You must individually purchase each voice in the downloaded version, and it’s expensive. (I proofed this blog post using Natural Reader and Rachel, BTW.)

180:

That’s the percentage I blow up my screen to in MS Word. 180% allows me to easily see but still keeps the entire line on the screen.

Being creative while dealing with one or more disabilities means continual adaptation. You must do what works best for you. I’m learning to use my tools and finding new tools as needed. So what are your tools? What do you do? What works for you? If you’re willing to share, please do so below, but please don’t try to share your sympathies or miracle cures with me because those won’t make it past moderation.


Photo by Charles  on Unsplash

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