I found out when I was 19, second year of university, sent on my first and last visits to a psychologist. It’s mild. I have coping strategies. I am intelligent, but not enough to compensate: When you are dyslexic, you will never be the smartest person in the room. Sometimes the room is hostile. Sometimes it shrinks around like plastic wrap, until you cannot breathe.
It’s mild. The talk is of overcoming limitations. Of getting past them. As if the brain is a labyrinth or a mountain. A labyrinth presupposes the idea of an entrance and an exit. Walls that are visible and unmoving. A mountain as a thing to be exploited, conquered.
I experiment with unstable territories, while trying to be comforted by the line in the psychologist’s report: top 0.1 percentile for language ability. Despite everything, I’ve a way with words. I write poems first because they are small on the page. Able to be seen. I need blocks, a shape. I cannot read out my own work easily because I cannot follow it. Or, I can read it, but the words disappear as I say them. It seems the audience listens though. My writing a dubious waterway, full of debris, but still capable of channelling meaning.
No one can tell. I can tell no one. I’m a writer. I’ve been through the academy. Seen what no one speaks of: if you are lost in your own disability, then you are inadequate. A page of theory splays outwards as I read, exploding into ink particles. The walls breathe in and out. Stress is weakness. Would you call me fraudulent, self-indulgent? Say it out loud. That poor spelling is my own fault, ditto poor timekeeping. Top pet peeves of editors: ‘sloppy’ spelling. Sometimes a room is built to be empty. Sometimes there is no way out.
Information in quantity causes shipwreck. And I am all at sea, either trying to gain or give it. On hard days I worry about writing without sense at all. Like Leonid Andreyev’s The Red Laugh: a man scrawling with a pencil with no lead in it, making dumb work out of his need to tell. Dyslexia is a collective: instabilities of forms, structure. Words forget their phonemes. Sentences breach grammar. I want so very much to be understandable, and from there flows the dream of being understood. The dream of listening to a lecture without the aftermath of exhaustion. To have passage from one end of the paragraph to the other, all the way to the foot of the page.
What chance of passage, and where would I be going? The dumbness of animals extends into their inability to grasp a written script. If I can manage a little – well. What a strange creature. Hybrid of broken and good. Frustrated by the innate inability to get out of this. If I write of the Minotaur you will think I exaggerate. I make being grandiose a coping mechanism. But I’m stuck on thinking; how does the Minotaur see things? Through herbivore eyes, turned outward for danger. Would the man with the animal head be able to read or not? Or partially so. I have the image that he in fact has a human head, and the bestial one is on the inside.
Further: what’s the point in writing for your art, if it may never be artful? But I have to write for you. It could never be just on the walls of my own head. Remember the flame. The passage, the waters. Likewise it would never be to claim exit, to draw a door, or to make myself king of the warrens. Wanting to write and be read while stricken in reading and writing is not narcissism, you remember, that’s another character from myth altogether. He has something to praise; his beautiful form reflected in crystal waters. Everything collected, held.
If I pick up metaphors like burrs in long grass it is because they don’t need to dissolve into anything, to become seamless. They are obscure by their nature. One thing is like another thing, but it is not itself, because we cannot grasp what that is. Let me say words are not the way out, but they are my nameless way to you. Let me be understood by you, even at this distance, over the messy particulate of words. I am not epic. I am mild. I am a closed room. But I think, certain old stories begin with listen. So, listen: where do you begin, and how close am I to that point?
- Photo By Lenny Simon