Writing when you “ain’t quite right.” Part 1

I’m going to start out the new year with a post that I published 3 years ago, shortly after starting a blog.  If you’re new to “Two on a Rant” it will explain a lot about why I see the world just a bit differently. This is the first of a 4 part series.

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dyslexia

I’m going to bet there’s something that’s made you stop and think, “Maybe I should give up the idea of writing.” Maybe my experience can help you see that you’re not alone. If nothing else, you’ll wonder how I ever managed to last this long in the world. Which brings me to the point of Part 1: FIRST, YOU HAVE TO ACCEPT THERE IS A PROBLEM.

If you’re like me, you’ve heard the following:

Write.

That’s the first piece of advice you get when you say you want to get published. This is closely followed by:

Read.

The writing part is no problem for me. It’s my first love and it’s as necessary to my life as breathing. But the reading part? It’s almost totally useless advice to someone like me.

There are people who explore the world, climb Mt. Everest, persevere through all manner of adversity and who—at the end of it all—provide us with heroes and role models. I have to tell you right out of the gate that I’m not one of those people. At best, I’m the horse with 3 legs who might, if she can find the right jockey, make it to the finish line an hour after everyone else.

Or, as my father used to say, “She ain’t quite right.”

Not that life was a chocolate sundae with a maraschino cherry on top for my father, either. His life was more like the “safe falling on your head” when compared to my “stumbling through life.” He had a 5th grade education, but man could he count cards in a rummy game. He was the oldest of 4 children who learned early-on that when his dad stumbled home drunk you’d better get out the door and into the trees before he came after you with a knife. By the age of 8, he was spending the night comforting his siblings age 6, 4, and 2 in a tree and listening to the Florida panthers roar out at each other. I think it’s safe to say that my dad had some idea what the term “not quite right” meant.

I struggled to make C’s in school when my older sister made A’s. She was the honor student, the brilliant sibling, while I was constantly in trouble for not trying hard enough. No one knew why I wasn’t quite right, so my lack of success in school was attributed to laziness, stubbornness–or other character deficits never used to describe my sister. The doctors wouldn’t come out and say,“We don’t know.” My parents were given a litany of advice that proved to be about as useful as telling your girlfriend to douche with coke after sex to prevent pregnancy.

I at least convinced my sister I couldn’t remember anything I read. The standing joke between my sister and me when we were teenagers went something like this:

If you had 2 small shelves of books, you’d have reading material for a lifetime.

Translation: You ain’t quite right.

So I struggled on reading book after book. When I did manage to wade through a book, I’d get to the end and realize I had no idea what the plot was. However, I would remember in striking detail unconnected bits of irrelevant information like argyle socks, a red dress, the blonde hair of one of the characters. Did this tell me there was a problem? Nooooooooo. As you’ve probably guessed, I’m not particularly observant, either.

So then, when did I finally internalize the concept my father understood so acutely? My 2nd husband went blind from diabetes but was able to go back to college with me as his reader, typist, and notetaker. I opened the first textbook, read the first page aloud, . . . and then asked my husband to explain what I had just read.

He said, “That’s not normal.”

It’s the educated person’s way of saying, “You ain’t quite right.”

I went to Disabled Students Services at the university for a test, the name of which I can’t remember. What, you might ask, was the diagnosis by the esteemed experts who tested me? I’ll preface it by saying that an elementary school child is better at sequencing pictures and visual matching than I am. All right, are you ready? Drum roll, please. . .

“You can’t remember what you read. You have a learning disability.”

If I’m not mistaken, isn’t that the politically correct psycho-babble for, “She ain’t quite right”?

Over the years, there were more specific diagnoses: I’m dyslexic, half blind, and have a multitude of learning disabilities I won’t bore you with–but it’s sort of like multiple causes of death. Hell, you’re dead. Isn’t one cause enough? My self-esteem squarely in the toilet, I took an IQ test. It wasn’t much help either. What good is a verbal IQ over 130 when performance is (on average) 98? If you talk to me for 5 minutes, you’ll wonder why both scores weren’t lower. It’s because IQ tests are to life what words are to actions.

So the next question I had was this: “Now that I have a diagnosis, what the hell do I do about it?”