DeKALB – Melissa Blake calls herself “a down-home Carrie Bradshaw,” says she can recite all 50 states in alphabetical order, loves getting omelets from her favorite DeKalb restaurant, The Junction, and now is being called up for book deals because she posted three selfies on Twitter.
Blake, 38, is a freelancer journalist and blogger who was born with Freeman-Sheldon Syndrome, a rare genetic bone muscular disorder that causes deformities in her hands, feet and face and led to 26 surgeries in the first 16 years of her life. She said the last week and a half has been “overwhelming and surreal.”
“The response has been amazing,” Blake said, sitting in her wheelchair at the kitchen table of her DeKalb home, where she and mom, Sharon, 63, and her sister Janelle, 33, live together. Her father, Brian Blake, died by suicide in 2003 and worked as an electronic technician at Northern Illinois University’s geology department, she said.
“So many people have said that either [my tweet] resonated with them because they had experienced online bullying before, or they’re so happy to finally see something positive on Twitter, so that meant a lot to me,” Blake said.
On Aug. 3, Blake published a piece for CNN, criticizing President Donald Trump. A conservative blogger picked it up on his YouTube channel, which then garnered a slew of hate speech in the comment section, the majority focused on her appearance rather than her writing, calling her a potato blobfish, and declaring she shouldn’t be allowed to post photos of herself online. On Sept. 7, Blake defiantly tweeted three selfies.
“I felt like I did want to say something because I think people need to know it’s not OK,” she said of the viral tweet that’s earned her more than 62,000 followers on Twitter. “My tweet was a way of taking back my power, because I think a lot of times women are told to be quiet, not say anything, just sit there and smile.”
‘Purveyor of the matriarchy’
Blake’s fierce and unapologetic personality is as apparent in person as it is on her social media. Her Twitter page declares her a “Purveyor of the matriarchy.” She said her dream job is to host “The View,” and is ecstatic about calls from literary agents and national and international media.
Still, Blake’s adamant that the
15 minutes of fame isn’t her cup of tea since she’s an introvert, but she’s willing to use the platform, and her way with words, to make change. She’s speaking out as a disabled woman writer, she said.
“Your worth does not depend on what other people think of you,” Blake said. “When we’re young, we’re so worried about what people will think of us, or if we say or do the wrong thing, someone isn’t going to like us. I think that it’s important to be comfortable with yourself.”
She said her confidence came from her parents, who never let her use her disability as a crutch, although self-acceptance has been a lifelong journey for her.
“A lot of times when I was younger, I would get really self-conscious about my disability,” Blake said. “I always used pretend it wasn’t as huge a part of me as it was. But as I get older, I’m coming into my own and being OK with my disability because it’s a big part of who I am.”
So about what she said
Although Blake’s borne an onslaught of hateful rhetoric the past few weeks, bullying’s not something she had to deal with growing up in DeKalb, she said.
“I love this town,” she said. “I’ve seen it grow from when I was a kid. I had really good friends in elementary school and high school, and great memories of Northern Illinois University before I even went there.”
After getting her start in journalism at the Barbed Wire, Blake graduated from DeKalb High School in 2000, then earned her associate degree at Kishwaukee College while writing for the student paper, the Kaleidoscope. She then transferred to NIU to earn her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2005.
She describes her What’s On My Mind column she wrote for the Daily Chronicle from 2006 to 2011 as a “feel good” column like “a shot of Mountain Drew without the caffeine or calories.” She returned to Kishwaukee College to teach students on the Kaleidoscope team until 2012.
In between, she found time to start a blog So About What I Said, and built a career as a freelancer. She works from home and treks to NIU’s library a few times a week to write for a change of scenery.
Although the internet trolls are still out there, Blake said she’s not letting them get her down.
She said she read a Twitter comment recently that claimed disabilities are not to be celebrated, since “no one would choose” to be disabled.
“A lot of times you have this mentality that being able-bodied is the norm,” Blake said. “But I always say, if given the chance, I don’t know if I would want to be able-bodied. That’s not to say I don’t get frustrated with my disabilities, because I do. But being disabled, this is normal for me. I’ve had it all my life. Just because someone’s different does not mean it’s not normal to them.”