Writer and artist Ayesha Chouglay blogs about her experience at CRIPtic x Spread the Word Writers Salons for deaf and disabled writers.
I was diagnosed with a sensorineural hearing loss after trying to climb out of a toilet window at a school disco when I was six. My excitement at dancing, which back then consisted of jumping up and down, had led me to bounce my way across to a vast speaker which towered over me. As someone with tinnitus, that I used to describe as feeling funny, and a dislike of loud sounds which I didn’t yet understand, my logical reaction had been to flee via the window. This sort of summed up my reaction to my hearing for the next few years. I think back to a smaller version of myself, sat on a rough plastic chair inside a stuffy room at school. This was the beginning of my dislike for beige walls. I was mid-conversation with my teacher for the deaf who would regularly visit to talk to me about my experiences.
I didn’t know any other deaf children, and when asked would it help you to meet another child with the same thing? or something along those lines, I said no and instantly regretted it. The thought stayed in my mind, ever present as the beige wall, but I never spoke of it. There was a bit of bravado in there, the feeling that bites at you to prove yourself, much as I used to compete with the boys in my class whilst explaining that girls can do all the same things. I refused to wear pink and later realised I very much liked it. I was a bit of a contradiction. But I did feel the differences between myself and my hearing friends, and it was only when I began to embrace them (big cliché I know), and spend time sitting with the sensations that my body was experiencing, that I began to appreciate the intricacies of my body, its value, and see it is a tool that has sculpted my artistic style.
This process began when I was studying fine art at university. I mentioned to a friend that I lipread. She was excited, and told me I ought to make some work about it. So I did; I began to write poetry about how it felt and how I experienced conversation, creating artwork both visually and with words, and now I find myself sitting here, writing about a place within art that I didn’t know existed, and writing about the community that it led me to find. I’m very grateful.
The workshop that I facilitated for one of the CRIPtic x Spread the Word Salons included writing and drawing exercises, and explored many of these topics. Each salon has a reading, a workshop, and an open mic. In the same way that my style has been influenced by countless wonderful writers, I learnt so much from the perspectives and stories of others involved in the salon. There was a quiet feeling, similar to visiting a gallery, knowing that you are here to share something, whether you decide to speak or not. Being part of a space in which people with shared experiences can come together and do something they love is vital. It is empowering.
If I hadn’t been inspired by my friend at uni, I wouldn’t have applied for opportunities to work with other deaf and disabled writers and artists. Often I find that one event leads me to another, and I can trace the lineage. As someone who used to resist talking about my body, especially symptoms such as pain and fatigue, I really recommend connecting with others and finding communities.
Your body has its own language. Letters become patterns, senses and memories. They try to capture your attention and form a dialogue with you. Your body sings in its sleep and in the quiet hours, with a notation of pain, comfort, emotions, and a dial tuned to the frequency of those you care about. As writers, we translate these sensations into words. In my experience, having a disability can heighten the likelihood that we will lose touch with our bodies. We sometimes try everything we can not to sit with pain, not to feel the fatigue, to push down the emotions that we are experiencing and bury them. But when we start to sit with these feelings, the complexity becomes clearer. We can see our bodies as vessels, tools, paintbrushes or pens through which we can communicate our experiences of the world. The infinite differences between us are wonderful.
Below, I have included an exercise from the workshop I facilitated:
Close your eyes and visualise an object in your room. This visualisation can be visual, or you can focus on another sense entirely such as touch. Press hard as you draw and feel the imprint that the line is making. Focus on how the object feels to touch. Which areas are smooth? Which are rough? How could you differently represent these feelings?
It can be hard for people from minority groups to find safe spaces to share their work, especially when speaking about personal experiences and thoughts. Spread the Word and CRIPtic provide nurturing spaces for communities to form. Their dedication to access is wonderful and ever growing. Having attended the CRIPtic x Spread the Word Salons, in addition to Experimental!, Spread the Word’s online writers’ retreat which provided myself and others with a raft of creativity during uncertain times, I highly recommend signing up to the opportunities available, and seeing where they lead you.
Ayesha is a writer and multimedia artist who aims to use her artwork for political means, opening up safe spaces for conversation about difficult topics. Often her work draws on personal experience of disability. Her poetry has been shown in the ‘Song of Myself’ Poetry Jukebox at Belfast International Arts Festival, at ‘Mr W et al’, a celebratory event exploring art and disability in Hackney Wick, and in ‘Deaf Experience’, an online short film screening of films by deaf and hard-of-hearing creators, organised by The Film Bunch. She is currently working as the Digital Programme Manager for Stagetext.
You can find out more about CRIPtic x Spread the Word here: www.spreadtheword.org.uk/projects/criptic-writes-x-spread-the-word/
Published 17 August 2022