Fluid Literacy

(A little tribute to one of my special talents.)

The Tale that Wags the Dog

Once upon a rainy day, A soggy doggy went his way

To find a warmer spot, and dry, When, from the middle of the sky,

All of a sudden, fell a cat Right on the dog and whomped him flat—

The sad conclusion one can draw Is, someone with dyslexia

Was on assignment to make rain, And in the turnings of her brain,

Confused the “and” among her cogs And started Raining Cats on Dogs.Digital illo: It's Raining Cats on Dogs

Get Me Some Book-Larnin’

Drawing: Samuel ClemensJust because I have had the benefit of a decent education doesn’t mean I am smart. We all know that it’s entirely possible to have any number of degrees and diplomas, plaques and endorsements, letters and titles decorating your name and still be a complete fool. Idiocy is a far less rare condition than the number of high school and university graduates would have us believe.

Indeed, I have read a great quantity of writings during the course of my life, but I would never go so far as to say that I am well read. Among other contradictions to that claim would be my incredible slowness as a reader, both in speed and in comprehension: as a multifaceted dyslexic, able to turn words, letters, numbers, directions and relative spatial placements all inside out and upside down without even trying, I can easily spend four times the amount of energy and hours reading that any decent reader would need to get through the same amount of text. And of course that doesn’t guarantee that I will actually understand what I read in precisely the way the authors intended.

A more important reason that I don’t consider myself well read is that I have managed to conquer only a relatively small segment of the library most scholarly and literate persons would consider to be well written, informative, accurately researched and defended, or just plain must-read, important stuff among books. Long before I knew why it took me so long and so many tries to read a mere paragraph, let alone a book, I was required to tackle a handful of the so-called Classics of literature, and a bit of contemporary contenders for the title as well. It’s just as well I didn’t imagine I had such an anomalous reading style or that it was considered a disability by others, because I might have had yet more frustrations and difficulties in trying to fit the mold of how one was expected to overcome such things, instead of finding that by plodding through in my own backward way, I became attached to some of the books and stories to an equally unexpected depth. Whom should I, as a struggling reader, admire most among authors but those champions of the dense and complicated, say, Charles Dickens and Robertson Davies.

On the other hand, it’s probably less surprising that I also favor the purveyors of the most outlandish and appalling and ridiculous, from Ogden Nash, Evelyn Waugh, and Edgar Allan Poe to Mark Twain, S.J. Perelman and Franz Kafka. This part at least makes some sense, if you tend to believe I’d read writers who reflect something of my own mind’s workings or the weird ways in which I see the world. In any event, this latter crew might explain a little more about my tending to choose the least arduous paths in life, since I find a certain sort of familiarity in the strangest of their inventions and so can perhaps navigate their writings with a surer strength than otherwise.

So while I may not be the sharpest pencil in the drawer or the most edified of readers, I have at least a few pieces of proclamatory paper in my coffers to prove that I did my homework somewhat dutifully if not doggedly. My degrees don’t confer any special wisdom upon me, but they at least excuse my curmudgeonly attitude about how long it takes me to read my own posts, let alone anyone else’s books and articles and poems and proposals, no matter how brilliant and scintillating and clever and beautiful they are. I’m still trying, but give me plenty of time!

Slow-Moving Cars & Shiny Objects

Distractions abound. One split second of inattention can lead to disaster, whether it’s the roadside wildflowers that make me fail to notice the brake lights ahead of me or the glittery wings of a metallic beetle that keep me from realizing that everybody in my promenading party has walked on ahead without me and I don’t quite know where. Not such great and significant dramas in the grand scheme of things, these, but small indicators to remind me that things could have been so much worse if I hadn’t been so fortunate, and might be yet if I don’t learn from the nudges.Digital illustration: Tripping along the Road

The best fortune in them is, of course, that I’m cautioned before the crack of doom. How much better to be alerted by noticing the swerve I had to make to avoid plowing into the slowed traffic, or by realizing I have to catch up with my strolling companions than that I actually caused a crash or hiked right off the trail into uncharted wilderness alone. A little jolt is an occasion for large thankfulness.Digital illustration: Dyslexic Map

That’s how I travel through life, bumbling along its unmapped corridors with my faulty personal GPS and my avid, easily attracted magpie eye. I bump into life as much as I take a route through it. I’m just relieved to have lived this long without disappearing down any of an infinite number of rabbit holes and being lost forever in the warrens, tripping in them obliviously only because I was too mesmerized by nonessential Other Things along the way.

The Genie is Out of the Bottle

Digital illustration (BW): Grinning Genie 1It would be hard to imagine a person who is less the early adopter than I am. Newness frightens me even under the best of circumstances, and I am intimidated beyond words at the idea of trying to learn anything. Worst possible example for anyone’s edification when it comes to scholarship, growth, adventure, futurism, daring, and tireless commitment to progress of any sort. I’m the one you’ll find huddled somewhere in the shady corner as far back of the starting blocks as I can manage to be, while everyone else is already sprinting gleefully into the turn.

Chalk it up, pretty succinctly, to fear. My self-diagnosis, summing up my own observations and experiences with the insights of better educated therapist and doctor supporters over my lifespan, is that the recipe made by my own ingredients of personality, health, situation and resources tends to combine into a person who’s timid and easily defeated. Add a dollop of laziness to my already potent blend of anxiety, dyslexia and other perceptive and receptive oddities, and my lack of physical strength and grace, not to mention of any sort of courage, and you get an unwillingness, even a very stubborn one, to set foot into new territories, whether actual or metaphorical.


When I feel I can experiment safely and without anyone else observing me at work, I may occasionally delve into something new with a surprising (to me, at least) sense of play and eagerness. Though I’ve resisted the idea of learning to use any new forms of technology, at least until they’re far from new anymore on a general scale, even these can be both useful and entertaining if and when I finally get up the gumption to try them. So here I am, finally, fiddling around with the iPad as an artistic medium. On our recent week’s jaunt to Puerto Rico, the iPad provided a convenient way to reduce the weight and size of my baggage from the old laptop I have lugged around for the last five years, and while I found it slightly irksome to peck at the tiny integrated keypad on it to write posts, it did work for that, and as long as I used newly made images or ones in my stream of digitally stored photos, I could plug in illustrations as well. Photos taken on my iPad or iPhone do not impress me much, and I find both a bit awkward to use at this point. But with a new set of digital drawing/painting toys, I’m distracted from any such photographic and textual shortcomings by the process of teasing out the secrets of each art-related program.Digital illustration: Grinning Genie 2

Once introduced to this plaything, of course, I loosen up and lose my inhibitions gradually. Knowing that after years of such untutored play with various iterations of Photoshop, I still only use a hundredth of the possible functions and tools it offers—and those, probably, in wildly incorrect and inefficient ways—I can only imagine that there will be exponentially more things I can learn and do, as well as fail to learn and do, with these newer tools and toys. But at least I’ve managed to wiggle my recalcitrant self into trying them, for a start.Digital illustration: Grinning Genie 3

Bland Like Me

photo montageThe marvelous Diana of A Holistic Journey has been writing posts asking about the influences of race, culture, national origin, education, and so forth and the ways that they shape who we are and how we perceive ourselves. This series of hers is proving an outstanding eye-opening and thought-provoking exercise for me, too. I have spent most of my life living amid and being part of The Majority—middle-class, white, English speaking, native-born, educated, boringly predictable, etc, etc. There were a few touches of diversity around me here and there, of course, this country of the so-called United States being what it is, but those were relatively small and isolated, so mostly I grew up sheltered and unchallenged in nearly all ways.

Yet as an individual I came to know myself as being different in one way or another from most of what I thought of as the ‘norms’ of my own environs, and even learned over time that what I thought was my Majority milieu was mostly just my very narrow path through it in life. While a lot of my classmates, immediate neighbors and friends when I was a kid, for example, were also little pasty white critters like me, the friends I remember best as seeming most interesting to me were ones like Eha, the Estonian girl, or Karen, one of my few black classmates, or the Japanese friends who shared exotic treats from their lunches and who performed classical Japanese dance in a miniature celebration of the Cherry Blossom Festival at school. I have hardly any memories so suffused with longing as that of watching the girls flutter their fans, while dressed in exquisite kimonos and dancing their stately, courtly dance to the strains of the tune ‘Sakura’, which melody in turn still fills me with delicately melancholy love.

My ideals of human physical beauty, as my husband and I have often noted musingly, are nearly all attached to non-whites or mixed-race people, not something I think of as a conscious or intentional choice but a persistent reality for me ever since I can remember. My superficial list of Most Beautiful People would probably have a paucity of caucasian members among its top fifty. While I have never been either very adventurous or flexible in my choices and tastes and experiences, I suppose I have always been fascinated by what seemed different or even exotic to me. I am a fantasist and a romantic in the cheap, popular versions of those ideas, I guess.

I have even wondered, in a broader sense, if part of my very nature is simply to feel like an outsider for no very specific reason. I was always shy, and learned as an adult that this expressed not only a naturally introverted character on my part but also demonstrated lifelong social anxiety and probably the incipient state of my developing depression that didn’t come to full fruition until later. Those, along with undiagnosed dyslexia, tremors, the dysphonia that came into play in my forties, and who knows what other quirks of my unique persona and biological makeup, could perhaps explain why I never felt I fit in with any particular group or was especially central to its character. But I still can’t say I felt consciously sad or was overtly unhappy or removed or, certainly, ostracized for any of this.

What was odder was that as I reached adulthood and gradually began to find a more comfortable sense of self and direction, I have a feeling I may have chosen to put myself into groups where it was plain that I didn’t quite match the norm, specifically because, if I knew there was no possibility of my being an exemplar in its midst of the highest standard, I might unconsciously feel safe from being expected to be so by anyone else. This might be complete nonsense, but it gives me pause. In any event, I spend a great deal of my ‘quality time’ nowadays in the company of people who are immersed in and even expert at music, pedagogy, administration, and a number of other topics in which I have no training whatsoever and only a very little observational knowledge, and I am very happy in this environment.

Conversely, I tend to keep my company of good visual artists and writers and others with training or knowledge more likely to be similar to mine at the seemingly safer arm’s-length of cyberspace, and that probably doesn’t reflect well on my personal fortitude. I never did, at least, make any claims of being any better than a big ol’ chicken. Being a scaredy-pants is probably not race-specific. Or attached with any particularity to culture, social stratum, nationality, educational accomplishment, religion, language, income level, or anything else in question. Being a scaredy-pants is just part of being myself, and the unique combination of qualities and characteristics that make up the wonderfulness of Me.

On the other hand, being attracted to, frightened by or otherwise connected to or dissociated from people who are Not Like Me is a central consideration of understanding how the human species works. Or doesn’t. And there’s no doubt that all of those things influenced by proximity (physical or metaphorical), the aforementioned race, culture, social strata, and so forth, are very potent indicators and influencers of how we will experience the concept of Self and Other at any level.

So what does that ‘solve’ about me, about how I feel about those who are or seem in any way different from me? I’m still not at all sure. Perhaps the best I can say is that my feeling of being, in a value-neutral way, unlike those around me makes me unwilling to assume much about them, in turn. I would generally rather let personalities and individuality be revealed to me and my understanding of my surroundings at the moment unfold in their own sweet time than that I jump in and make any precipitous assumptions. I’m perfectly capable of finding lots of other ways of being wrong and making a fool of myself without constantly worrying over whether I’m being judged, rightly or wrongly, as a stereotype of either the majority or the minority on hand.

Most of my blogging friends and acquaintances are significantly different from me in nearly all of the aforementioned identifying categories, and yet I feel remarkably at home among you. So I’ll let you decide if sameness or difference affects how you see me. I feel at home, and that’s good enough for my part of the bargain.photo montage

A Couple More Things I Tell Myself

…since I seem to be in the mode of self-improvement. Or, more likely, just talking to myself as usual…photo + text


Graceful Phrasing

digital illustration from photosFrom my privileged perch in the corner of rooms where music is being studied, rehearsed and discussed, I hear all sorts of interesting and enlightening things on the musical topics at hand. Also, plenty of stuff that goes right straight over the top of my pointy head. After all, I’m hanging around with a bunch of scholarly and often exceedingly experienced musicians, and they’re speaking their own language, one that has jargon and concepts far beyond the reach of someone who took five years of childhood piano lessons and a few voice lessons, all without ever actually learning to read music. My poor teachers had no idea how far in over their heads they were in taking me on, but I must assume that most of them figured out my scam of ‘play [or sing] it for me so I can hear how it should be done’ so I could learn it by ear in lieu of figuring out why the notes never seemed to be where they were supposed to be in my fancifully dyslexic internal designs. In any case, I rarely hear musicians talking without getting off course myself a few (million) times along the way.

It’s not all that different, for me, from sitting in on a conversation between those speaking, say, German, Swedish or Norwegian, Spanish, French or Italian: if I already know the theme of the present discussion and a few of the key words, and can suss out the attitudes of the participants to the topic, I may be able to follow the conversation in a vague, generalized way, and nod yes or no on occasion with pseudo-intelligent accuracy. But could I actually participate in the talk? No, don’t make me laugh! Contribute anything meaningful? Not an atom of a chance!

All the same, the musical musings I overhear have a certain advantage as far as I’m concerned, since the discussion of music necessarily entails terminology (not least of all, the Italian words and phrases that are the lingua franca of score study and rehearsals), and to the quickest and clearest way to describe something musical on the fly is often to simply burst into song on the spot.

How one conducts or performs the phrasing in a musical work does a lot to determine not only its flow from beginning to end, but how text, textures, colors, sonorities, melodies and meanings may be enhanced or diminished, heightened or made more subtle. The way one phrases a discussion of music in front of a non-musician can, as I’ve found, affect how much she understands what’s being said, suggested or sung as well. Ultimately, I find that many such opportunities for listening in not only enhance the eventual performance but also my enjoyment of the preparations for it, which can stand alone as entertainment or, who knows, even education.

And if it sounds mellifluous and marvelous along the way, the invitation is almost always accepted, even by this ignorant listener. Just as when I listen to entirely unfamiliar songs and performances and sometimes take quite a while to warm up to them, hearing chatter among real musicians of any level gradually helps me to learn a bit of the way that they approach their work and play and to understand their still-mysterious language. I may not know much, but I know that there’s a lot to learn to like!digital illustration

Huntin’ ‘n’ Fission

I’m told that it’s both fun and useful to have hobbies. There are certainly plenty of books, magazines, news articles, classes, clubs and social organizations devoted to leisure-time pursuits, all of them trumpeting the value of such avocations. Some of them are decidedly age-specific: I haven’t seen a large number of free solo rock climbing promotions aimed at senior citizens, for example. There are hobbies considered preferable to persons of certain economic strata, fitness levels, sexes, nationalities and any number of other identifying categories, some active and some quite passive or spectatorial, some of them expensive to learn and requiring extensive training and practice and others free and simple to master. Regional favorites abound, like, say, noodling (catching catfish by hand), which would be hard to enjoy in desert climates unless you happened to be both a big fan of the sport and dedicated enough to stock your own evaporation-protected pond. Some of the more intellectually stimulating hobbies, like competitively designing robotics for cage fights or nuclear plants for home use, are highly entertaining to their practitioners but utterly escape the attentions of us more modest-brained folk as either too highfalutin or just plain incomprehensible. Sudoku, popular with millions of people cleverer than I am, falls into that too-challenging category for me since I’m so mathematically unfit, but I do like some kinds of word puzzles reasonably well if I’m in that rare mood.

Should I take up golf, having decided to move (when my spouse gets around to retiring) to a place on a golf course partly for its–surprise!–affordability and its location in a great town in a great part of the country, and in no small part as well for its great view into the green and leafy first fairway of the course? That would require my learning which end of the club is the grip and which the head, not to mention a whole bunch of other stuff, and on top of that, paying dearly for the privilege.photoWhile I’m still living in Texas I’d certainly be in a logical place to take up hunting, but that doesn’t appeal to me at all, unless it’s with a camera. For that matter, I’m more inclined to practice target shooting with a longbow, something I’ve enjoyed briefly in the distant past, than with a gun as well, being mighty skittish about those things. Being on the fast track to old age, I could probably pick up something more sedentary like knitting and crocheting if I had the patience. My single brief fishing moment post-childhood actually garnered me a cute little throw-back bass (as a kid I never caught anything but one big scary looking White Sucker that even my older boy cousins wouldn’t touch) and was enjoyed in good company while sipping a fine Texas brew; maybe that should inspire me to get busy with fishing.photoThat’s the thing, though: I just don’t enjoy games and sports, puzzles and pastimes much at all. Whether this arose or was reinforced by my longtime social phobias, perfectionistic fear of being seen as incompetent, dyslexic inability to keep anything I’m doing on a standard track, hilariously hideous sporting skills or any combination thereof is probably irrelevant. You see, there’s no separation of church and state in my life. I spend my days and evenings doing the very things that lots of folk can only do on an occasional basis and to fill their free time.

If I took up drawing, concert-going, reading and writing, cooking, DIY projects, gardening, photography or collecting weird bits of Stuff as a so-called hobby, what would I do with my day job? The truth is simply that I’m a fully fledged frivolous person. If eccentric creative activities and ways of thinking are on the periphery of real life, then I am a bona fide fiction, an imaginary character myself. If on the other hand art is, as I’m convinced it should be, central to existence and well-being, why then I’m just ahead of the curve; I won’t need to retire to any old rocking chair or go in a desperate search for something to keep me occupied, because I already have too many fun and pleasing things to do. Either way, I’m keeping busy.

Against the Grain

It’s not only thanks to dyslexia that I get lots of things backwards. Say, this morning, when I realized that I was about to publish yesterday’s post because I forgot about it yesterday. That was just plain forgetfulness. So here you go.

Backwardness, now that’s a much more deeply embedded part of my nature than just reading and seeing physical things differently than others do. I see life differently, too, and sometimes it sets me off on paths that diverge and digress from all previously known ones. And that’s not inherently bad.

I don’t necessarily advocate bucking the popular trend just for the sake of being different. I certainly don’t advise doing the opposite of what everyone else does all of the time merely to prove you’re above them all. That can put you right in the path of danger; sometimes rules and boundaries and well-trod routes and even conformity derive from practical need and hard-won experience putting people out of harm’s way.

But there are times, too, when it does pay to be willing to hang the painting upside down, go home by a different road, or get up and dance when nobody else dares to get out of their chairs. Once in a while, the gift of getting out of sync with all the rest of creation is that you will learn something none of the rest know, feel something you’ve never felt before or even discover something previously hidden from the universal view. Even if it only lasts for a short while, the inner evolution that results might well be worth holding in your heart, your inside-out, upside-down and backward heart, for a very long time indeed.graphite drawing

From the Bottom of a Well

digital illustrationThere are wells whose bottommost dark can hardly be imagined, let alone reached, abysses hidden in all of us that emit no light and rarely give up answers. There are parts of each of us that we can scarcely understand ourselves. Places in which no one else seems able to make sense of us. It does not diminish us, singly or as a species, but it makes living life a greater and more delicately convoluted adventure at every turn.

For me, this means that I need to find the positive in an assortment of inner oddities and personal distinctions that most often remind me of their presence in random, unpredictable and even annoying ways. The unusual synaptical dances that cause me to read upside down, backwards and sideways instead of the particular direction in which my peers and comrades read make me a very slow reader since texts around here are designed with the literate majority in mind. But I think that reading things four times through just to make sense of them does sometimes immerse me more thoroughly in the text if I let it, and it can help turn a mere reading requirement into a commitment. Drawing, when my hand tremors are being pesky, demands that I become more than ordinarily focused and deliberate as well. There are lots of frustrating nuisances that can be turned into usable stuff with enough thought and effort and patience and, well, acceptance.

I still have a mighty tough time scraping up that attitude, though, when it comes to getting a handle on anxiety. That, my friends, is my bête noire. Most of the time I work around it fairly well. My medication and years of learning coping skills and the support of family, friends and health professionals have made much of my anxiety mostly manageable, especially the social anxiety that long made it a near impossibility to meet new people or have conversations with any. But there’s this lousy aspect that keeps on lounging around in my psyche and popping out like a jack-in-the-box at the most inopportune times without so much as a how-d’ye-do, and I have yet to discover a single upbeat way to dress it up and take control of this fiendish pop-up and its ghoulish torments.

The particularly loathsome aspect, to me, is how utterly ridiculous and tiny my personal bane appears to my rational mind, yet how entirely paralyzing its power remains over me whenever it rears its nasty clownish head. It’s not especially complicated to explain, just seems impossible to me to solve; the parts of social anxiety that I’ve never been able to undo or conquer thus far have to do with any kind of business or personal transaction that seems to me to have any chance of including a need for me to request or require help of any sort. Add to that my continuing pointless yet persistent horror of using a telephone or communication forum of any kind for those needy purposes, and it’s a peculiarly potent combination of fears that can keep me from getting the littlest and quickest things done for days or weeks on end while I try to summon the nerve to move forward with them.

Sometimes I can persuade myself over a long enough period to make the call or write the email or knock on the door to ask for information, make a transaction, or schedule an event, and sometimes I just remain stuck in the grip of that inertia that neither solves the problem nor lets me forget that I am in its power. And believe me, I know how abysmally foolish any attempt to explain my terrified reluctance to any sane person sounds: it sounds beyond childish and outlandish to me. But that rational part of me has very little sway over my phobias, so only once in a wildly long while do I get up the courage to do that unbelievably little thing that others can, and I should be able to, do without batting an eye.

The good news, and yes there is plenty of it to get me through the day, is that I have lived a good long time visiting the bottom of this particular and soggy well without losing my ability to see the light up at the top end of it or even to experience a truly happy life by keeping my trips down there as separate from the rest of my existence as I know how to do. And strangely, I have found that the same rain of frustrations, frights and fears that occasionally pelt down the well around me can also lie at my feet like a watery mirror, reflecting enough of my better self to remind me to come back up into the brighter world and leave my fears behind. Even if I have to wait for the rising tide of it to carry me back up and out of there for respite.digital illustrationMeanwhile, I can remember that having Spasmodic Dysphonia tends to make me not merely a prisoner of my halting speech but also more conscientious about conserving, preserving and rehabilitating my voice. More importantly, it gives me yet greater admiration for those who use their voices in extraordinary ways, both those with SD or other speech anomalies (i.e., Diane Rehm and James Earl Jones) and those without (Angela Meade, Colin Balzer, Morgan Freeman). And while I may not have perfect pitch or infallible hearing, there’s nothing notably wrong with my ears. Sometimes I even suspect that being at the bottom of a well gives me a better appreciation for good acoustics!