” Well if you are dyslexic, it must be a really mild form of it…” Dyxlexia Awareness Week 2012
October 13, 2012 by
During the summer I was sent a book for review; Forgotten Letters: An Anthology of Literature by Dyslexic Writers. When I first heard of this book my instant reaction was: what benefit is it to anyone to be labeled as a dyslexic writer? Does it not immediately give some people a negative preconceived idea of what those writers are?
I mentioned this to a friend and she suggested that today people no longer have a negative preconception of dyslexia…I wonder.
Ok, don’t worry; the Shed with the Chandelier is not about to install a soapbox for me to air their views on perceived ‘minorities’…or should it? It is a place to encourage share and celebrate individuals’ abilities after all. We are talking about sharing in the chandelier – “real life, real people and real creativity” – and the fact of the matter is that includes all types of abilities, especially in the arts. I am told, and it is often bandied about, that many people “suffering” from dyslexia are seen to be very creative!
I, on the other hand, hate labels…I am sure a psychologist could have a field day with me in that discussion. Really – how would you describe/label me? If I asked a close friend, they might describe me as an artist, mother, wife, lover of beaches, obsessed with all things creative and sheddy, perhaps they might mention my love of books, being on my bike as a kid, need to sing along to most music even when I have no idea what the words are, a random need to collect the odd stone, feather or shell when out, I definitely have a need to over think and discuss until others are too tired to be bothered anymore! N. Irish… Scottish? A lover of adventure and wondering over ancient stones, passionate about stuff and her husband and kids; but very rarely would anyone mention the word dyslexic or another learning disability. Why is that even relevant to Tracy?
I do not define myself in that way, nor do most of my friends. If each thing on the list above were taken separately, I reckon I could dismiss most as being not the whole picture: take my nationality, mother English, father from Northern Ireland, brought up for half of my childhood in Scotland, now living for a similar length of time on a Mediterranean island. I have a Scottish accent – does that define me? (I know that could even that could be pulled apart by a speech and language specialist!)
photo credit: Hedda Brownless
Here in the shed with the chandelier I accept the label ‘artist’; it sits well with me now…I think I can, at last after many years, accept that label. The term ‘artist’ doesn’t feel too uncomfortable at this present time and is pretty well received. I feel I have done my time, created the work, studied for many years…does that make me an artist? I will accept that label anyway – it doesn’t bring me down.
The Paralympics have recently finished in the UK – an outstanding success by all accounts, where the label ‘disabled’ is being kicked around at every turn by the media, to give them an umbrella term to describe a group of dedicated athletes whose abilities would put my daily exercise routine to utter shame…and I am supposed to be able bodied!! That’s another story… dis-abled hmmm…
So back to that Dyslexic word, why is it relevant to the shed (well, at least apparently)? Many artists are claimed to be on the dyslexic spectrum…quite a lot of them I am told – there is even a department dedicated to it at my first Art School, a world renowned art school, now.
As a little girl, one of my favorite Christmas presents was a book – a classic book often, and I would love it; the journey they would take me on in my mind, the feelings, the images – they stayed with me for hours, days, years, maybe even a lifetime. One of my favourite spots to sit and read was in the middle of a barley field in a specific dip where the I could see the world and the world could not see me. I would read and feel the warmth of the summer sun after the harvest. Still my constant companion, books feel like the security blanket of childhood now as an adult; if I have one with me, I will never be lost for a moment of stimulus or reflection or transportation into another world.
The only downside a book has ever held for me was as a child in school; the request to read out loud was a moment when sickness enveloped my body and panic would fill me…did anyone really know? I expect not; not through lack of care, I just would not have expressed it. The intelligent, blonde haired, quiet girl would have tried her hardest and bumbled on.
In my teenage years, the little church our family attended was a place of encouragement and reading aloud was applauded with reassurance; just being me was applauded, it felt like and was a safe place…I would have practiced those words over and over in my bedroom, memorising the ‘script’. Reading out loud in that situation was never painful – my confidence in being me was built.
Exam time…well I did pretty ok, enough to get my a place at degree and post-graduate level. I never felt that incredibly clever at that time, others were better, but no one would have described me as stupid; it wasn’t a trauma as such, the comments in class work of ‘be more careful’, ‘silly mistakes’, ‘read over work’, ‘could do better’ etc had decreased with my ability to check for such things if I had time or the inclination. Music, drawing and painting, building up a portfolio of artwork became my every waking thought in my last years of secondary school – the rest of school work was a means to end.
Looking back, my degree written work would let me down; I was not aware of this at the time – thinking of muddling up the abbreviation of BMA (British Medical Association) with reference to my dissertation still fills me with the sinking feeling of stupidity. Why? When my tutor, who I respected greatly, pointed out my mistake in the order of the letters, I felt totally stupid – who was I trying to kid that I could do this written work well? How did I think he viewed me? Stupid? What am I then? Just stupid?
In later years, I came to realise I could take on anyone in a discussion over medical issues or any argument on many different levels; and the muddle over a few letters, to me at least, is irrelevant to the level of my intelligence and ability I now know I have.
I became a lecturer in further education at a time when the government decided we – the lecturers -all needed to have further education themselves, on how to lecture. Experience and the valuing of “doing it” and “living” what we were teaching was no longer good enough; study and stress of whether I was good enough, again reared its ugly head. This popular tutor (me!) started to doubt her teaching style only to be reassured that all the learning techniques I had acquired for myself as a child and young adult, I was now passing on in my tutor group were precisely all learning styles recommended to make sure all students were being taught adequately, and I was doing this naturally.
One Sunday afternoon, while enjoying our weekly leisurely read of the Sunday broadsheet UK papers sitting by the river, was interrupted when one article jumped out at me – a description of highly achieving business people who were “dyslexic”. “They are describing me”, I said to my bemused husband…
I don’t fully remember the description but it listed those things, which were so familiar to me, and yet I didn’t realise they were not familiar to many who has been my classmates in school…or maybe they were? Not once did it mention not being able to read or write. I obviously can do those things in my own way.
I decided I needed to take the test to “diagnose” dyslexia (most people wondered how it would benefit me at this stage of my life) Well, the results were equally encouraging and devastating to me. I was a 30 something year old apparently ‘successful’ in the eyes of many: mother of two, wife, working artist, living in Scotland, travelling the world at any opportunity. I find out that my IQ is more than impressive apparently, but a distinct “deficiency’ in a certain aspect of short term memory etc was picked up. That blip on the graph was utterly devastating to me; I quickly forgot the high IQ assessment – was this new awareness really necessary for this ‘successful’ women?
I hate even writing this simplified diagnosis down – will it define the impression people have of me, will they remember the bit about deficiency and ignore the amazing IQ!?
Why should I worry?
photo credit: Hedda Brownless
I have found I love writing in the past few years – I didn’t realise how much until this summer, when having a holiday away from everything, I stopped working after an intense period of writing 90.000 words at the last count and then fell ill…I realized consequently I had stopped doing one of the things I love – one of the things that keeps me going.
So my point? Well, I have apparently “a specific learning difficulty”, but I would prefer to see it as just my way of doing things – I think differently. We all have our strengths and apparent weaknesses but could it be that we are all just doing it in our own way and maybe the need to mass educate in the late 20th/early 21st century has not caught up with us all yet?
I look forward to reading the book that was sent in post to me in the middle of the summer holiday… I have learnt so much just from the conversation it has generated already with its editor Nim Folb, who has patiently discussed the subject with me – if you like I will let you know the reading of the book goes…
So what do most people think when I tell them of my dyslexic discovery?
Some people have responded: “Well if you are dyslexic it must be a really mild form of it ” Ok – I’m glad in one way people think this of me, but go read the Shed with the Chandelier Facebook group: some days, if you read my posts, it may not look that way 🙂
I am now in my mid forties and I have survived the comments and the labels J, I know I should be more careful of the “silly” written mistakes I make, I re-read often what I have written, I still try and do all the stuff that was repeated to me in school, blah blah blah… I am not too proud to ask for some editorial help now – just to check if I have made those “silly mistakes”, usually from a patient loving family member.
But in the most part I am usually too busy rushing off to think, prepare and start making some new artwork or adding to those very carefully thought out and considered 90,000 words I have written in the last few months…maybe asking for help with the editing of this will be pushing our love too far!!! And… I look forward to the continuing discussions with my new found community of people who just think differently and do things in there own way – could you be one of them?