Activism and Advocacy / art / Managing Spoons in 2020 / Spoonie Challenges

Managing Spoons in 2020, featuring Derek Newman-Stille

Editor’s note: As promised, this Fall season brings us a new series called Managing Spoons in 2020. It’s been a heck of a year for many of us, so I decided to ask fellow Spoonies how they’ve been handling it.

ID: Deep purple background. Text reads: Managing Spoons in 2020 Week Five: Derek Newman-Stille. (The zeros are the tops of spoons.
This week we are featuring artist, writer, anthology editor, disability advocate and educator, and nine-time Prix Aurora Award winner Derek Newman-Stille!

So glad you’re with us today! Can you please tell us about yourself, your work, and if the rumour is true that you’re actually building a fort from Prix Aurora Awards?

Thank you! It’s great to be here. I’m a weird blend of many things. I’m Queer, Disabled, and Nonbinary. I teach at Trent University, so I am an academic, but I’m also an artist, activist, editor, and author. Most of my art work tends to be DisArts (disability-informed art), and a fair amount of my writing falls under that umbrella too.

My research generally focusses on representations of disability in Canadian Speculative Fiction and that research led me to create a public access digital humanities hub—Speculating Canada. I’ve been really lucky that Speculating Canada has won nine Aurora Awards, and it means so much to be able to contribute to the spec fic community. I find it important to make information and ideas accessible so that everything isn’t locked up in an academic ivory tower.

I’ve been asked by a few people to start assembling a throne out of Aurora Awards, so maybe one day.

What has 2020 been like for you this far? What have been your greatest trials and triumphs?

2020 has been a really challenging year. It is tough as a disabled person to see all of the rampant ableism in people’s perspectives. Early on, people were saying ,“Don’t worry about COVID because it ONLY affects disabled people,” telling us that we don’t have any worth in our society. That rhetoric just got worse over time as people continued to mistreat disabled people, and we started hearing about more of the abuses of disabled people in long-term care homes.

I find my community affects me a great deal, so hearing all of this and watching how all of this was affecting disabled people meant that I have been in a constant state of alert and panic. As someone with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) along with my physical disabilities, I’ve been finding this situation extremely triggering. I’ve been having difficulty focussing even on things that generally bring me joy like my art and writing. I keep finding that I start projects, but can’t finish them. It’s a really strange time to be someone in the arts community.

Do you find it easier or more difficult to manage spoons during this pandemic?

Absolutely more difficult. I find that I am running every day on a spoons deficit, which means that I have been extra prickly. I’ve been trying to do things that generally refresh my spoons—personal care. But even my usual personal care regimes are not working. And I think this is common for a lot of us in the disabled community. We are all out of spoons and trying to find ways of recovering a couple of spoons.

Having said that, I find that one of the things that refreshes and energizes me the most is seeing the amazing things our community is doing. I’ve been trying to create community spaces for sharing art and resources, and I’ve been empowered by all of the acts of community and care I’ve been seeing, particularly from marginalized people. We’ve been able to create our own sense of community amongst disabled people despite the overwhelming weight of ableism, and that community is giving me hope for the future and passion about what we can accomplish together.

How do you feel about the virtual accommodations that have appeared this year, especially with regard to work, education, and conferences?

Despite all of the terrible things that COVID has done, it has made a few things more accessible. It’s sad to say that things that we disabled people have been told were “impossible” for years have now become possible like video conferences, teaching at a distance, and online conventions. But, it does mean that I can now attend a lot of events that I wouldn’t have thought possible before. Conferences that wouldn’t have been possible for me to access in the past have suddenly become accessible now that abled people are encountering barriers that we disabled people have encountered for years.

In terms of my own classroom, I currently teach feminist disability studies, and my course is completely online this term. I didn’t think that would be possible in the past, and I worried about access for students who are unaccustomed to online learning, but the course is going well, and I’ve found that students who may not have been able to access it in the past are now able to do so. People who may not have been able to participate or people who may have been quiet in the past are now finding that they can share things in new ways. Students who have trouble speaking up in class are using the texting function and participating by text, and we are able to engage in multiple different modes of communication. I am excited about the possibility to see how future modes of access might develop from this.

Every year we disability advocates find ourselves constantly pushing our point of view in order to educate. Has 2020 made a difference in how much you’ve had to do this? What attitudes have you come across?

Because of being an educator, I spend a lot of my free time offering education and providing education to people. Having said that, I have found a lot of people asking questions about disability on a more regular basis and often meeting my answers with hostility. Disability has become far more visible during COVID, and a lot of people are asking us to justify our concerns about access, our need for safety, and justify our existence. I have found I have had responses to my concerns about people not wearing masks that range from “I shouldn’t have to do this just to protect you people” to “Why can’t you just stay in your homes, so we don’t have to wear masks” to eugenics comments like, “Well, maybe we’ll be better off without you people.” COVID has been a time, once again (and perhaps more visibly), of debating the role disabled people have in our world. It’s been a time of very visible ableism, and often very violent ableism with ramifications about whether we deserve to live at all. This has meant that disability education and advocacy has both been more necessary at this time, but also that our education and advocacy often meets hostility.

Back to managing spoons. I know art is a medium you truly enjoy creating. Has this been your primary self-care distraction? Can you tell us about your art-sharing group?

Art has definitely been giving me a sense of hope and a way of interacting with the world. I created an art share earlier this year for people to share art and talk about the role of art and it has been a powerful medium for bringing me hope… but it has also been a medium of change. We often forget that art is political and that art triggers change, but art DOES change us. It’s a powerful medium of expression, and it provides opportunities to learn and grow and change. I am having my students do a project on DisArts this year to help them access this transformative power of art.

How can people find out more about you, your work, and where to connect with you?

The best way to connect with me is through Speculating Canada. Folks can check out some of my art at my art website, but I need to get around to updating my website soon.

Thanks so much, Derek! I found myself nodding throughout this interview!


Headshot of Derek Newman-Stille
Derek Newman-Stille

Derek Newman-Stille is the nine-time Prix Aurora Award winning creator of Speculating Canada. They are completing their PhD at Trent University, researching representations of disability in Canadian speculative fiction. Derek is the anthology editor of Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales From the Margins and the Prix Aurora Award nominated We Shall Be Monsters. Derek has published in fora like Quill & Quire, The Canadian Fantastic in Focus, Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature, Misfit Children: An Inquiry into Childhood Belongings, The Playground of Lost Toys, and Accessing the Future. Their short story Charity™ appears in the Prix Aurora Award nominated anthology, Nothing Without Us. Their latest literary work is Whispers Between Fairies, a collection of fairy tale retellings, written by Derek and Nathan Caro Fréchette.

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