Vivian Chong says she often receives questions from sighted people who are curious about blindness.
"Sometimes, they don't even ask my name. They go straight into asking me questions like, what's your cane doing and how does the dog work?" says Vivian. "I thought, how do I turn this frustration into something creative? If someone is looking for an answer, I'm going to provide it in an entertaining way."
Her new graphic memoir, Dancing After TEN, follows her journey of losing her sight to toxic epidermal necrolysis (the "TEN" of the title), a medical reaction to Ibuprofen which caused scarring on her skin and the surface of her corneas.
After cornea surgery restored some of her vision, Vivian drew pages of a graphic novel to document and archive her experience. But as her vision worsened, she hit pause on the project.
"I let the story marinate on the shelf for 14 years to focus on adapting to living with blindness," says Vivian.
As part of the process, she recorded audio and voice memos on her phone to archive her stories and memories.
"I had a lot of people tell me if you want to publish a book, you have to just write. I thought – no, I'm going to try various ways to get the medium out in a different way," says Vivian.
In 2019, Vivian and her friend, Kathleen, reached out to Georgia Webber, the cartoonist who authored Dumb, a graphic autobiography chronicling her disability. That phone interview led to their artistic collaboration.
"Collaboration is about trust. I gave Georgia the material and all the drawings I had and just gave her space to create and work on her part," says Vivian.
Dancing After TEN was published last year.
"Timing is a miraculous thing. What are people doing right now? Reading," says Vivian. "In lockdown, you feel like life is stuck, full of fewer distractions, and more about self-reflection – that’s exactly what my book is all about."
The graphic novel was a finalist for the 2020 Toronto Book award.
"Like many award shows, most people already knew who was going to be the winner, but I came in feeling like I was already a winner because I was shortlisted and had a platform to share my stories, " says Vivian. "I feel very blessed to have a different way to present my book and myself."
When asked what she hopes people take away from her book, she replies: "I hope people see there is humour in life when things are hard. Don't let how other people live their lives affect you too much. Develop your individuality, find a way (and you will find a way!) to do what you love."