About Disabilities · About My Life

Kevin and His Calculator

Like everyone who’s been through school, I’ve dealt with a variety of teachers, good and bad. I’ve had teachers who guided me in my writing career and through my chronic illness struggles, and I’ve had teachers who mistreated and disrespected students and who were terrible at actually educating. As a chronically ill person, I’ve also dealt with a variety of ableism. But the worst example of both ableism and teacher misconduct that I’ve personally experienced is that of Kevin and his calculator.

I originally shared this story on my old blog in June 2017, and now I’m posting it here with edits to the writing quality.

During my first semester at BYU – Idaho, I had a religion teacher whom I did not much like. Many of the worst teachers I’ve dealt with have been inflexible people. In general, inflexibility is a toxic trait because we are all different people with our own paths in life, our own best ways of doing things, and it’s important to accept and affirm that. With teachers, inflexibility is especially bad because education is so important and, at the same time, a one-size-fits-all system.

BYU - Idaho logo

This religion professor may have been the most inflexible (and self-righteous) person I have ever met. He had an extremely black-and-white way of looking at things–and I say this as someone who was first diagnosed with OCD during this particular semester. His assignments were pedantic busy work that displayed no trust in his students’ intelligence or spiritual capacity. He said things like that we would see who was “truly righteous” by whether they chose to watch the Super Bowl on a holy Sunday. (I’m not a sports person myself, but I think that’s a bit much.)

Though I disagreed strongly with his perspective of the world, I didn’t initially have too much trouble with this professor. The worst moment was probably when he said that “disabled people feel entitled.” At least, that was the worst moment, until we reached the last two weeks of the semester.

During the first week of school, as is usual for disabled students, I’d had to work out a set of accommodations with the Disability Office. At this time, as was usual for the first and last weeks of school, I had been very sick. While I’d been in the Disability Office, I’d ended up in tears because of how much pain I’d been in. (They’d encouraged me then to get medical help, which had come in the form of a steroid injection in the butt–a truly delightful experience.)

The accommodation that I used most often while in school was a Kindle for my textbooks so that I wouldn’t have to carry around the too-heavy weight of physical textbooks with my fragile, exhausted body. I was allowed to use this Kindle in classes as an exception to the usual no-electronics policy. When I had given the religion professor the official letter stating that I would be using a Kindle for my texts, he had accepted that with little issue. His dislike of electronics, however, had been quite clear throughout the semester.

Also throughout the semester, we’d had open book quizzes at home on our readings in the LDS scriptures. This required us to page through those scriptures to find direct quotes and minor details. Thinking that the professor understood I did not use physical books, I had used my Kindle for these quizzes–which, admittedly, made it easier to find those pieces of information. I’d aced all the quizzes, which was not something unusual for me. I always did well in school.

Two weeks before the end of the semester, however, the professor called me into his office.

“You’ve been getting better grades than anyone on the quizzes,” he said, “and you finish them very quickly.”

An open set of scriptures

I nodded, unsure where was this was going.

“Have you been cheating?” he asked.

I was blindsided by the accusation. I’d been given hints over the years that teachers might think I was cheating, but my clear integrity and intelligence had prevented any true accusation.

“I’m sorry?” I said to the religion teacher.

“Have you been using your Kindle to take the quizzes?”

I stared at him. “Yes. They’re open book, aren’t they?”

“Yes, but that means a physical copy of the book.”

I shook my head, confused. “But I have a disability accommodation. I told you that at the beginning of the semester. I use my Kindle for my scriptures. I haven’t used anything else on the quizzes, just the scriptures.”

“The rules clearly state ‘no electronics.'”

“But…”

“So I’m giving you a chance to correct this without going to the Honor Code Office. What do you think your grades would be if you hadn’t used electronic scriptures?”

I was not prepared for this, in part because I had been diagnosed only eleven weeks ago for a type of OCD that made me vulnerable regarding moral issues. I tended to mistrust myself and to become deeply self-hating when faced with the possibility of having done something wrong. However, I knew that what this professor was saying made no sense. My Kindle was a disability accommodation. I did not have physical scriptures. How could using electronic scriptures on an open book test be cheating?

Though we went back and forth a bit, the professor was unwavering. He showed no understanding of the unique circumstances. A part of me was almost impressed by his manipulative way of speaking to me and his insistence on posing himself as a magnanimous figure. I eventually gave in and told him that maybe I would have gotten Bs? It was impossible for me to know, but like I said, I was good at school. He accepted that, though with a suspicious look, and I stumbled away crying.

After processing what had happened, with the help of a typical I-have-a-problem-and-no-one-here-to-ask call to my mom, I decided that I needed to push back more. Now that I was away from the immediate shock and could express myself via writing, maybe I could explain in a way the professor would understand. I sent an email to him, my mother, and the Disability Office that I hoped would straighten things out.

A drawing of hands, palms up, holding the disability symbol

Instead, I received a flurry of berating replies. As my mom and I tried to work things out with the Disability Office, the professor repeatedly threatened me with the Honor Code Office, called me a cheater and a liar, and wrote things like, “the guilty taketh the truth to be hard” and “you and God and I know the truth.” I could hardly believe that a fully grown man was speaking this way to one of his students.

I would have given up sooner, especially since I still had an A in the class, but my counselor and my mom encouraged me to continue. Even my dad called the professor “a disconsolate ass,” which was oddly heartening, since my family didn’t allow cursing. We all agreed that what the professor was doing was wrong, and other students needed protection from that kind of behavior. So I continued sending emails throughout the week.

The Disability Office, however, proved to be exceptionally unhelpful, stating that it had been my responsibility to communicate to the professor about my accommodations. Since we had never explicitly agreed that I would be using my Kindle on tests, they couldn’t do anything. Perhaps that was true, but they had to see how inappropriate this all was, didn’t they? I had forwarded all of the professor’s emails to them.

Without structural support, and with my mental health quickly degrading under the stress of this, I finally decided to let the issue go. I sent an email to everyone stating so, though I again pointed out the unique circumstances and the importance of supporting disabled students. The professor replied thanking me for owning up to my cheating and doing the right thing, having clearly not understood any of my points.

I thought it was over. But the next day, in our first religion class during the very last week of school, the professor went off-syllabus with an unexpected case study. He projected it up on the board. It read something like this:

“In a math class, calculators are not allowed while taking quizzes. Kevin has been using a calculator on his quizzes. of taking the issue to a higher authority, possibly leading to failure or even expulsion, he will simply lower Kevin’s grades on the quizzes. The teacher tells him that, instead Kevin insists that he has not cheated and calls on his parents to defend him. Though the teacher has treated him with fairness, Kevin refuses to admit that he has done something wrong.”

A light-skinned hand holding up a calculator in front of a blurry desk set-up

Then the professor had the entire class discuss “Kevin” and his cheating ways.

As I sat there, listening to everyone talk about how “Kevin” was a terrible person for refusing to admit his wrongs in using a “calculator,” I had no words. To set aside one of the last class periods to target me, using my unsuspecting peers, and again without acknowledging that teeny tiny detail of my disability accommodation, right after I had let the complaint go, was astounding. Part of me wanted to cry, but things had drifted so far from logical reality that I mostly wanted to laugh. The immaturity! The manipulativeness! The utter audacity!

The professor brought up the issue again briefly the next class period, and then, the semester was over. I considered filing a complaint higher up, but I honestly didn’t want to waste more time, effort, and mental health on a man who, I now saw, was incapable of seeing shades of grey. No matter what I tried, he wasn’t going to acknowledge my point. I knew the truth, and that would have to be enough.

Me and God, but apparently, not him.

After that semester, I was sure to use Rate My Professors before signing up for any classes. In a later year, I came across the professor with his latest religion class, which included a blind student, and I winced. I could only pray that the student would make it through without too much struggle.

Brother Dorman is still a religion professor at BYU – Idaho to this day.

In retrospect, I wish I’d had the resources, emotionally and externally, to continue fighting his mistreatment and apparent ableism. It hurts to think of all the students who are under his power, possibly being manipulated and degraded like I was. You want to talk about “unrighteous dominion”? Look no further. But this all happened in 2014, and I don’t have the emails anymore. Perhaps the school does. I don’t know. I suspect that all I can do is hope that either this professor has significantly changed or a future student who does have the resources will succeed at pushing back.

One of the most important lessons I learned that semester is that rules on their own have no meaning. To follow rules, without question, is to ignore the fact that each rule should stem from an underlying principle.

Golden statue of Lady Justice blindfolded with her scales and sword

The principle is what has meaning. Too often, we ignore that principle and let ourselves be controlled by the rule instead, even when it becomes arbitrary or hurtful. When you look at the rules, you see black and white. When you look at the principles, you begin to understand in true color, and then, you are enabled to follow the rules with greater purpose. You become a better, more educated person. You learn how to balance justice and mercy.

There was none of that balance in what happened to me.

Thank you for your time and support in reading this post. It’s wild, right?

Images via Brigham Young University – Idaho on Wikipedia, JamesNichols on Pixabay, Hawaii Open Data on thenounproject, and two unknown artists on pxhere.

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About Disabilities · About My Books · About My Life

A Journey Through My Life

This week, for my very first repost of content from my original blog, I’m sharing an updated and revised biography! You know, in case I’m famous one day and people want an official life story to refer to. This post combines two previous posts, one from August 2012 and one from September 2019.

(This post contains discussion of suicidal thoughts.)

I was born in 1994 in Albuquerque, the largest city in the state of New Mexico. I was an adorable little thing, talkative, feminine, and precocious, though also sensitive, perfectionistic, and physically inept. When I started walking, I did it entirely on my toes. I also was obsessed with the Disney movie The Little Mermaid, which revealed both my musical skills and my romantic nature.

My first brother was born when I was three, and I started my education at a nice but useless preschool. Later, I moved to a public school kindergarten, where I learned to read. I devoured knowledge, so I’d always loved being read to, but I was pretty average at first with phonics. Then, all at once, while I was looking over Clifford’s ABCs, something clicked. I now could read most words with very little effort, a shift that shocked my teacher with its suddenness.

Baby me
Me in Spring 1995

In first grade, my mom decided to move me to an experimental school where we were homeschooled half the day and taught in a flexible, mixed-grade classroom the other half. It was fantastic. That schooling setup allowed me more freedom to learn at my own pace and level. It was here too that I first got into creative writing. At the end of the year, we each had to do a big project, and my mom and I chose writing. I was invited afterwards to read one of my stories to my brother’s preschool class. Sitting there, with all those little faces gazing up at me, I knew deep in my soul that this was how I could make the most difference in the world.

The next few years had good and bad moments. When I was seven, my second brother was born, and when I was eight, my mom gave me The Talk, which began my struggle with mental illness (so far as I remember). I’ll talk about that more in a future post. During the last couple months of third grade, my family moved to the smaller NM town where I’ve lived since. It was a good place for me growing up–but the stress of the move was too much for my easily overwhelmed mind.

After a summertime incident at Girl Scout camp, I experienced about four months of melissophobia–an extreme fear of bees–which really shook me. The adults around me, including a school counselor, didn’t know how to deal with it; I only figured out what it was later through research. That pivotal moment led to me developing a few new physical issues along with a more deeply broken sense of self. As a result, I became fascinated by human-related subjects like psychology, and I started trying to write a full-length novel. I hoped it would allow me to help and inspire others and to make sense of myself and my experiences. (I also very much wanted to see my name on a library shelf.) Around this time, I began playing cello, too.

Writing a novel, especially when you’re that young, is not easy. I attempted it many times before I achieved a story of 100 pages, which my eleven-year-old self then considered to be a full-length novel. I was so thrilled to finally have a book written! Soon after, I finished my second novel, herein called #IceEnchantressStory, and in my Gifted and Talented class, I got to work with a publicist from a minor publisher. From her, I learned about query letters. This led to, that summer, me querying publishers and literary agents for the first time, even though I couldn’t really do it correctly. I submitted an early draft manuscript from my mom’s email with the help of our library’s latest copy of Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market. Of the 12 rejections I received for that novel, I was most upset by Scholastic’s reply, where they said that they didn’t publish children because they might be embarrassed about their writing when they were older. (RUDE.)

Then the culture shock of middle school hit my sheltered seventh grade self hard. As I continued to struggle with a persistent feeling that something was very wrong with me, I put a lot of effort into teaching myself to be more “normal.” I was also gradually realizing that a trusted adult had been and still was abusing me and other people I loved, which made me all the more desperate to have my words be heard. But I wouldn’t be who I am without all that–especially my very intense first love.

That love defined my existence for the next four-and-a-half years, even though it never led anywhere in reality. It was very hard on my mental health, but gave birth to my most prolific period of writing. My mother also gave me permission around this time to join Scholastic’s heavily moderated Write It message boards, where I learned a lot more about publishing and met my best writing friends! As I wrote more books, I started transitioning from writing MG fantasy to writing YA speculative fiction.

Seventh grade me
Me in Fall 2006

Eighth grade, unfortunately, was probably the worst year of my life. Very quickly, I spiraled into a nightmarish reality of self-hate and suicidal thoughts, which I then slowly recovered from. In the midst of that, I wrote #PsychicStory, which became my next big novel project. I started submitting to literary agents again. This time, I was able to convince my mom to give me my own email address (dolphinwriter@aol.com, good professional stuff 🐬) and more access to literary agency websites with updated submission guidelines. Ultimately, #PsychicStory got the best reception of all the books I’ve queried thus far, though it brought me 46 rejections too.

At the beginning of high school, I wrote the first three novels of the #ChosenFourStory series, another notable project that helped define me as a writer and for which I received all sorts of support from friends and acquaintances. During tenth grade, I emailed back and forth with the agent who had offered a conditional acceptance of #PsychicStory following an R&R. I learned quite a bit from her about how to edit, but then, she stopped responding to my emails. I didn’t learn until years later that her agency had shut down.

Another highlight of that year was that I started having chronic pain in my hips after the 2009 H1N1 epidemic, during which I caught influenza, bronchitis, and strep throat all in a row. Then, when eleventh grade hit, my post-viral symptoms exploded into full-on fibromyalgia. I had to adjust my whole life to an incurable chronic pain and fatigue syndrome. It was a difficult experience that I’ll share more about in a future blog post. I was also trying to overcome, on my own, my severe self-confidence issues, with limited success. Against my will, I fell for my closest guy friend in my typical unrequited way, which added some heartache to the mix.

On the upside, my mom let me join Facebook, and one of the girls from the Write It boards managed to track the rest of us down there! For the first time, I could freely communicate with my writing friends. They cheered me on as I began submitting #ChosenFourStory to literary agents. Ultimately, I received 26 rejections for that one. I also wrote #ProphecyStory, my fourth significant project. Finally, I graduated from high school with honors in May 2012.

I first attended college at Adams State University in Colorado, double-majoring in music and English. The adjustment to my freshman year was difficult, but for a while, life seemed idyllic. I got my first real job as a copy editor for the school paper, which I loved. I started querying #ProphecyStory, for which I eventually received 25 rejections, and I put out a couple of test queries for another project. However, in mid-winter, various stressors brought up my unresolved past traumas. A friend then convinced me to start counseling with a good but inexperienced student counselor.

College-age me (with black-and-white kitten)
Me in Summer 2012

In the midst of that, I decided to transfer to Brigham Young University – Idaho. Additionally, I chose to drop my music major and focus solely on English. As soon as I started at BYU – Idaho, I sought counseling again through school services. I was there diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, primarily in the form of moral scrupulosity, which explained quite a lot about my life. I switched to a stronger antidepressant and worked on my mental health with a counselor there. I also found an effective counselor at home, finally, who continued that work. The better my mental health became, the more I realized how much I had been suffering.

Around this time, I became a founding member of the Chapter One Events team, initially created by my Write It friends, which now runs two writing conferences for young writers. I also wrote #OCDStory, the next big project that I am still editing. However, I found myself struggling with my fibromyalgia symptoms, which seemed to be worsening in leaps and bounds. I had to quit orchestra mid-semester because of how sick I was, and I haven’t been able to play cello since. In July 2016, I finished my Wuthering Heights-focused thesis of 31 pages, and I finally graduated with my B.A. in English.

I returned home to pursue an online Master’s in Information and Library Science program through San Jose State University. It only took a couple of months, however, for my body to give out on me. After ignoring the warning signs for years, I ended up so sick and exhausted, I could only leave my house for doctor’s appointments. I developed upper body tremors, and I needed a cane to walk. The pelvic pain I had been experiencing also became excruciating, which led to a diagnosis of interstitial cystitis in October 2016.

Though treatment for that began immediately, the level of pain I was in was so bad that I still experience traumatic mental symptoms today. Late 2016 to early 2017 was the second time I was suicidal, thanks to that extreme level of pain; my fear that my growth as a person had stalled out, making my life meaningless; and internalized ableism that caused me to see myself as a burden on my family with no worth. Thanks to a variety of supports, however, I was able to keep going. In July 2017, my brother and I went to Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where I was diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). With the advice I was given there, I started taking my life back. I’ll discuss my experience with this chronic illness crisis in another future post.

As my recovery continued, I was able to get back to editing #OCDStory. However, it was clear to me now that I would probably never be able to work as a librarian. So I quit my MLIS degree, and, in January 2019, I opened my online freelance editing business. I began writing a new book, #SnowQueenStory, a process that continues today. I was pretty disappointed to realize how slow I had become as a writer. With that blow, however, came an important epiphany that I think will be the making of my career. I’ll detail that more in another post.

Me in 2019 in a car with a Scarlet Witch shirt
Me in Spring 2019

I then trunked the only other manuscript that I still was holding onto, leaving myself a fresh start with #OCDStory and #SnowQueenStory, the two books that I’ve written in and after my lifechanging chronic illness crisis. That’s where we are in my life right now! In total so far, I have completed nineteen manuscripts, I’ve trunked eighteen of them, I’ve received 111 rejections in my search for publication, I’ve had requests for more material from four literary agents, and I’ve been through one R&R.

I look forward to updating this biography some time in the future. Thank you for experiencing some of it here right now! 😊

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