Nikoletta Erdelyi is a project coordinator at York University, supporting academic advising projects that aim to enhance the student experience. She has worked in the employment sector, and pediatric healthcare, where she continues to be involved as a speaker and mentor to children and youth with disabilities transitioning into adulthood. Nikoletta’s lived experience as a wheelchair user has influenced her passion for writing and storytelling. She is a regular contributor to Abilities magazine and is currently preparing to perform her play ‘Ghost Tales’ as part of Soulpepper’s ‘Welcome to My Underworld’ directed by Judith Thompson. She hopes to contribute to Canadian literature by demonstrating that we are here to experience the beautiful contrasts of being; the extraordinary cannot exist without the absurd, and we often must befriend our phantoms to become our best selves.
As a child, I thought I would grow up to be… I don’t quite remember, but as a teen, I wanted to be the CEO of Sick Kids. I still do.
My first job ever was… Youth Facilitator at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. I helped host workshops about employment for youth with disabilities.
My proudest accomplishment is… Writing my new play, ‘Ghost Tales’ which I’ll be performing this spring at Soulpepper Theatre. It touches on the dark side of romantic love, the concept of femininity, and the early loss of my father. As a woman who uses a wheelchair, I am often placed on a moral pedestal; through this piece, I want to depict that we are all capable of good and evil.
My boldest move to date was… Turning a collection of my childhood spine x-rays into a visual poetry series for an art exhibit. When you grow up with a condition like mine, hospitals and medical appointments are part of your reality, but the x-ray room always terrified me. It was dark, the table I had to lay on was cold, and then images of my spine would appear and depict how curved it was. X-ray images portrayed me through a purely medical lens and I wanted to pair that perception with that which is not seen through a medical gaze; for me, that was a full, vibrant childhood, filled with fairy tales, dolls, and a very vivid imagination. It was very cathartic because it was my way of befriending my skeletons; they may not be literal bones for everyone, but we all have them.
“I constantly have to problem solve, so my mind is quite active and verses of poetry are always forming in my head.”
I am most inspired by… Rainy afternoons and solitude. We spend so much time in the presence of others, taking on our many different roles. Who we are when there’s nobody watching is the most authentic version of us, I think. For me, rainy afternoons and solitude are an opportunity for introspection, mindfulness, and vulnerability; the ultimate toolkit for a poet.
The motto I live by is… “Follow your most intense obsessions, mercilessly.” – Franz Kafka
One fact that surprises most people about me is… I’m an existentialist. On the surface, I am cheerful and bubbly, so whenever someone sees that my bookshelves are filled with Camus, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre, they’re a little bit taken aback. The human experience is filled with so many extraordinary moments, and yet, we all come face to face with absurdity, repeatedly. How we make meaning of our struggle is endlessly fascinating. I think that to really live fully, the extraordinary and the absurd need to be embraced. Loss, heartbreak, fear of the unknown, and coming to terms with our impermanence are just as potent for our growth as blissful train rides or morning coffee while sunlight bakes our bones in a heart to heart with a good friend.
Growing up with a physical disability has taught me… Forced creativity; it’s pretty standard for me, because to do very basic tasks, I have to think outside the box. Something as simple as carrying a shopping bag and wheeling myself at the same time requires a lot of concentration. I constantly have to problem solve, so my mind is quite active and verses of poetry are always forming in my head. People think that disability makes me more patient, but it’s quite the opposite. Having to wait longer for things like accessible transit or boarding a plane has made me very impatient. In my professional life, it has served me well; I relentlessly chased my dream job and have advanced significantly just two years after graduating university. With forced creativity and a lot of impatience, I reach a lot of my goals rather quickly.
I think the most important quality in a good storyteller is… Integrity; the willingness to take your audience to the darker places inside your consciousness. It’s easy to bring out the sunshine and candy, but we do have phantoms lingering in the shadows that are begging to be heard; that’s where the gold is. That’s why we need to befriend them to become our best selves.
I want to teach students… That far more important than your program of study is your level of ambition and willingness to grow. As well, that emotional intelligence is just as relevant as the technical skills to get things done; putting yourself in teamwork situations with diverse individuals who challenge your views is a good way to prepare for the realities of life.
My best advice to aspiring writers and researchers is … Don’t mix ego with your words; accept criticism with grace.
“Who we are when there’s nobody watching is the most authentic version of us.”
I balance my personal and professional responsibilities by… Reminding myself that even though my career and professional development are important, life is about love, food, travel, and the lapses of time that move, shake, and inspire us. We will not remember specific meetings and spreadsheets, but we’ll remember the experiences and connections we make.
My toughest challenge thus far has been…and it taught me… The battle between art and logic. I so badly want to be the romantic, existential novelist and poet, but I also want an impactful career in pediatric healthcare or academia. This year, I’m learning that both are possible. I have exciting creative projects on the go, along with a new career at York University.
I stay motivated by… Meditating and visualizing the best possible version of myself. I’m big on the law of attraction and believe that the frequency of our thoughts and feelings bring about mirrored circumstances in our lives.
Being a woman in academia is… Very empowering and an absolute thrill. Knowing that many of the projects I get to work on are enhancing the student experience is rewarding and enjoyable. I can honestly say that at this stage in my life, I have my dream job.
If I could tell my twenty-year-old self one thing it would be… You’ll be fine.
In the next 5 years I hope to accomplish… A master’s degree in philosophy; I’m madly in love with the subject and always have been. I hope to travel more, release a couple of books, and make more art; more plays, perhaps a movie. I’ve never been more excited about the future; there is so much momentum around everything that fires me up and I feel like everything is possible.