Janelle Resendes is in the latter part of her degree here at VIU. She has her eyes on the prize, and is planning to graduate in January 2021 with a double minor in creative writing and anthropology. She has branched out and taken courses in just about every genre that the creative writing department has to offer: journalism, publishing, poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. This is above the expectation as the department only requires you to have three of these genres under your belt in order to graduate; and that’s for a Major. Add this on top of her academic essays and exams, and you’re probably thinking it sounds like a lot of writing.

What if I told you she has cerebral palsy, a motor disability that affects movement and muscle control, and she is forced to type out all her assignments with just one hand?

This is the daily reality for Resendes. She has been working towards her degree part-time for the past 10 years now, yet her eyes grow wide and she sits up a little straighter as she discusses her studies, as if she’s entering the very first class on day one. I can’t help but be enthusiastic along with her.

“I’ve taken fun art classes, and sociology, so a wide variety of classes,” she said. “I love the program because it allows you to try different things.” She particularly loves her art courses, especially painting. She had originally planned to do a degree in Visual Arts, but it was too physically challenging for her, so she decided to pursue  another creative avenue instead. She has no regrets or bitterness and has seemed to find a niche in creative nonfiction. After taking the publishing course with professor Joy Gugeler, her eyes were opened to the plethora of literary magazines and the possibility of being published; she’s been inspired to put her work out into the world ever since.

Resendes was born in Nanaimo and lived here for most of her life until she moved to Port Moody three years ago. Her anthropology credits were all completed while she was on campus, and with a bit of strategic planning, she’s been able to take the courses she needs online from the mainland. On one hand, it’s been convenient to work from home—I’m sure she doesn’t miss the big hill and cramped washrooms—but she does miss the social aspect of being on campus.

“It’s been a challenging experience,” she said. “The thing [that is] better about a classroom is physical interaction—seeing people, hearing them ask questions, talking about stuff.”

So how does she do it? I can’t imagine how tedious it must be, and how sore her hand must get, so I’m curious about her strategy.

“I just take breaks when I need to, and try to push through,” she tells me. “I have to type on my laptop or iPad with a stylus, so depending on the day, I find either my laptop easier or my iPad easier to use.” She uses a keyguard for her laptop so that she doesn’t accidentally press all the keys on her keyboard at once. Unfortunately, she’s had to make do with her iPad lately, as she’s waiting for a new keyguard for her laptop. She tells me this could take a few more weeks to arrive. I think of all the assignments we have coming up (and the ones we just submitted) in the nonfiction-writing class we’re in together right now; she confesses she’s having a bit of trouble keeping up with the coursework, but she’s starting to find the iPad easier.

Janelle works on a new piece

In her case, cerebral palsy is a severe disability, and affects more than just her hand or arm. But the symptoms affect everyone with CP differently. As HealthLink BC states on their website, “Cerebral palsy causes reflex movements that a person can’t control and muscle tightness that may affect parts or all of the body. These problems can range from mild to severe. Intellectual disability, seizures, and vision and hearing problems can occur.”

Both on and off campus, Resendes acknowledges that VIU has been very accommodating to her. “They’ve helped me access sources better, helped with my laptop, and gave me all the resources I needed to be successful,” she said. “They’ve been amazing. Even now, they’re so supportive. They really helped a lot.” 

The one flaw of the university that she points out is general accessibility, specifically on the Nanaimo campus. “It’s an old campus, so it’s to be expected,” she said. “But it was always a pain, because I would always have to take the long way around and go through buildings to get where I needed to be. But I think they’re trying to improve it now.” Slowly, VIU is making strides —but the university still has a long way to go.

As for her plans after graduation, she’s like many of us: she has no idea. At least not yet. She hopes to continue working on her paintings and visual art, which she’s begun to take on as a business. And she’ll keep writing. 

“I hope one day I’m published in a paper—that I’ve written stories. I just hope something I’ve done goes somewhere.”

And it will. Currently, she is working on an article about her experiences at the Easter Seals Camp in Shawnigan Lake, and how camp has taught her to look beyond her disability and given her a more positive outlook on life and the world around her. She is truly a talented writer who is honest, relatable, and warms your cold, tired heart with her strength and optimism. 

Up until now, I admit that writing with both hands was something I took for granted. I still can’t begin to imagine what Resendes has to go through every day. After we hung up our Skype call, I left our office at The Nav feeling inspired and motivated. Complaining about the trek up and down the hill from my house has felt trivial ever since.

She is a force to be reckoned with, so take note. You might see her blowing up the literary scene and art galleries across the nation before you know it.