Thought Residency: Jessica Watkin

Thought Residency: Jessica Watkin


I’m Jessica Watkin and this is my fourteenth and final thought.

Here’s The Compassion Project Part 2. I’ve had a hard time making art without a deadline, without someone to make it for, without a gallery exhibit coming up, without an opening night looming, without a holiday to exchange gifts. But today I started my first piece of art that is only for me. New rug, new project. I want to stand on this rug and feel my own intentions through the bottoms of my flat feet. How can we use our own art in our lives?

So to end my thought residency during these chaotic lockdown times, I invite you to create art, to make, but do it for you. Thank you for listening. That’s the end of my final thought.

I’m Jessica Watkin and this is my thirteenth thought, and this is part one of The Compassion Project.

I am too hard on myself. I am everyone else’s hype person, and I struggle to be there for me. I work so hard on so many projects and still feel I’m never doing enough. I crash and burn often, my eye crashes every Thursday from overuse and fatigue. I’m exhausted.

So I decided to start saying it out loud, the gratitude, the things I wish I could feel the truth of: Thank you for trying. Thank you for feeling your feelings. You are doing great things. And I write them down. And I’m searching for a way to feel this truth.

I’m Jessica Watkin and this is my twelfth thought.

And I’m gonna be honest for a second about online performances and how I don’t think its interesting or engaging or useful for performance creators and performers right now to be trying to recreate the experience of in-person theatre online.

I think that, yes, we are given a computer screen which is a square and very proscenium but there’s no way to engage with an audience in the same way, there’s no way to connect as performers in the same way.

And so I think we’ve actually been given an opportunity to find Virtual Performance. To find methods that are unpolished and sticky and fun and rely on disconnection of wifi internets and dropped words because that is what it has to be right now. And that’s exciting.

I’m Jessica Watkin and this is my eleventh thought, and I’m going to tell a story today about fear.

The last time I was in London, England, I was at a show at the National Theatre and when it finished it was so dark outside, like super dark, like too dark for a Blind person to be out alone in, and I got completely turned around. I had my cane but there was no one around me, and I found myself randomly on the south bank in some sort of parking lot and I was freaking out, I had no idea what to do, who to call, how to get home… And then I looked up and I saw the lights of Big Ben. And I saw the moon shining, and I couldn’t see the buildings, and I couldn’t see where I was, but I could see them reflecting in the Thames, and I knew that that was the way I needed to go, that was Westminister station, and I found my way.

I’m Jessica Watkin and this is my tenth thought, and I am telling you the story today of being a blind person and going for a walk during the pandemic! So I’m out with my cane because I cannot see if I’m six feet away from people.
(sound of cane and wind)
(Jessica sniffles)
And so the cane helps folks stay away from me!
(sound of cane, a car, and Jessica breathing)

I’m Jessica Watkin and this is my ninth thought and this week I’m going to tell some stories.

At the Republic of Inclusion in 2017, we ended the summit with a cocreation of space. We were prompted to do anything to make us feel comfortable and have ease in engaging with the music provided. Everyone around me found chairs, mats, blankets, sunglasses, stickers, fidget toys, temperature and light changes, vibrating vests. I found some sparkly stickers and asked someone to guide me to everyone I had met and cared for, gave them each a sticker, and ensured they were safe and okay. Then I curled up with a friend. I desire safety and closeness with those I care for.

I’m Jessica Watkin and this is my eighth thought.

I’m craving nature. I’m craving putting my bare feet in the sand and dirt, water, grass. I’m really craving tulips because it’s springtime. But I can’t find any that are cheap enough and support a local business. So instead, I’ve done actually the first creative thing in a while and I’ve cut out small shapes of tulip bulbs, tulip heads that have sprouted and bloomed. And I’m trying to find ways to integrate them into the indoors. You’re looking at a few of them now. We’re finding our ways.

I’m Jessica Watkin and this is my seventh thought.

This pandemic has brought me two insights about myself: The first is a newfound grounding in my role as a “good” facilitator. It turns out I’m trusted in the community to hold space for artists, prod, poke, and ask questions, and use the answers creatively to find solutions. This is also how I define dramaturgy, so that’s good.

The second thing is that I cannot make art from my own home. Or maybe I’m too quick to make that decision, or I haven’t tried hard enough, or my brain is so full and tired that I can’t imagine my own art right now. I have stories inside of me, but they’re not coming out right now. And maybe that’s okay?

I’m Jessica Watkin and this is my sixth thought.

I’m outside and it’s damp and it’s warm. Could that be how the whole world feels right now? I’ve been thinking about intuition, ritual, routine. How do we as a species find our own individual rhythms to carry out our lives? How much do we cling to these mundane rituals when the earth shakes beneath our feet? A dear colleague of mine uses terms from the weather to report on how they are feeling. Right now I feel like the calm before a storm, I’ve been having a month of storms and brief moments of sunshine. But every time I cling to its warmth, and that feeling tries to get me through to the next break in the clouds.

I’m Jessica Watkin and this is my fifth thought.

And I’m having a hard time arranging my thoughts today. So I am going to talk towards a definition of what Disability Dramaturgy is… because that’s my thing. While I work with a fellow Disabled artist we focus on safety, energy, support. We normalize cancelled plans, build flexibility into our schedules, and meet virtually. We talk out our aggressions about ableism and injustice and everything else. We ensure we each have what we need. We find ways to create and exist that come from us and not from what someone else says is right. Which all have also been welcome invitations during this pandemic. And of course, we find ways to feel a little joy.

I’m Jessica Watkin and this is my fourth thought.

It occurred to me today while practicing yoga that I am so comforted during activities that take care of watching the time for me. Where it isn’t my responsibility to watch the minutes tick by but I am supposed to just… be present. This is yoga classes. This is theatre performances. This is therapy and online meetings I am not chairing. If someone else takes care of keeping time for me I am easily engaged. Time has worked so strangely for me lately, but I am finding peace in the thought that even in this chaotic global crisis we are practicing collective care, if only by keeping time for each other like a metronome holding us together.

I’m Jessica Watkin and this is my third thought.

I made a rug last year for the first time, I hooked it, and I made it nonvisual and tactile. And I’ve been thinking about the future of tactile art: pieces that encourage and invite touch, post-pandemic. Will we consider each other differently? The proximity? The closeness? Or will we be finding a new way to touch, to connect in a newly normal way? I am finding a little bit of peace in that uncertainty; that there may be a new normal at all.

I’m Jessica Watkin and this is my second thought.

I’ve been thinking a lot about care, and how to actually take care of one another. I think this situation with Coronavirus has made me think even more, if that is possible, about how we have built the structures around us to take care of each other. And I’m stuck on this idea of carefull- not careful as in, “ooh I’ve got to be careful I don’t wake Dad”, or tiptoeing around, or trying to make
something safe- I mean carefull as in full of care (with two l’s). How do we make decisions and live our lives in a way that is full of care?

I’m Jessica Watkin and this is my first thought.

This is a weird and hard time for artists, and everyone, but I am hearing about hope popping up around me. The sky can still be blue after it opens with rain. People have started to listen and find ways to creatively support one another from isolation. As a Disabled artist and scholar I have had to creatively find support… theatre and academia are inaccessible spaces. We have been offered an opportunity to navigate the world a little differently, and as a Blind person I can tell you that it’s not so bad.