We have invited Naomi Folb Of Forgotten Letters to write a guest blog post for us. This will be the first of many guest blogs.
Naomi has created a fantastic project and we do want you to get involved. Here is a video that explains more:
If you would like to download and read this fascinating post at your leisure click this > [download id=”2″]. Otherwise read on…
It is the week leading up to the festival, the dark is still heavy, and I am awake. At my desk I read it again. The story, herstory, behind the festival of dyslexic writing. It is important to me because here, the book I have been developing for two years, will be launched.
The note which I have received in the night speaks of dyslexia as an ‘achilles heel’. Achilles was only a baby when his mother was told that his death would come from a wound in the foot. It was an act of love that led his mother to dip him by the foot in the River Styx, which was said to have curious powers. It was the heel of this foot that was later shot by a poisoned arrow and killed Achilles. An ‘achilles heel’ has since come to mean a weakness; like kryptonite to superman. It is also speaks of destiny, and impending doom.
Dyslexia has had many names, records suggest that they run into the hundreds. One of these was word-blindness. This was coined by a doctor called Pringle-Morgan who met a boy ‘Percy F’ that he described as: ‘bright and intelligent’ and ‘quick at games’ but with ‘great difficulty reading’. His guess was that Percy F had a problem with the eyes. We now know that this is not true. Pringle-Morgan was right about something though: finding reading hard is not always a sign of intelligence. Some people who are very intelligent find reading hard. Now, people such as these prefer the term dyslexic, to word-blind.
Can dyslexia be cured? This is a question to which everyone has an answer and I am one of them: it depends on what you want to cure. Dyslexia has been researched for over a 100 years and there are a great many interpretations of what it means. There are characteristics that dyslexics share, such as being terrible spellers. The problem is dyslexia is part of me. I am not perfect, or even special, but to talk about fixing me, or even part of me, as if I was a car with a broken exhaust, is crude. You cannot take the dyslexia out of me, or my dad. I love my dad because he is dyslexic, not despite it. I love that he called ‘pheasants’, ‘peasants’. I love his passion for life and living. He is one of life’s great helpers. A great dresser. An even better mediator. A superb problem solver. I want to be like him, not ‘normal’. Whatever that means.
I think some people do suffer because of their dyslexia. I also think a lot of people suffer because dyslexia is not recognised as a difference which matters. Dyslexia is not a mental instability. People with dyslexia are not crazy. People with dyslexia do not think in circles. People with dyslexia do not have thoughts that go in their head, spin round and round and never come out again. Dyslexics do not live in la la land. Dyslexics are prone to lateral thinking. This means that they are very good at seeing the whole. Plus dyslexics are very quick to see ‘connections’ between ideas and this is what produces innovative thinking. When you take two things that have not previously been appended and you put them together, you get a new thing.
Dyslexics are good at finding solutions because they can always see alternatives. Lateral thinkers generate ideas and they are not blinded by the first thing that pops into their head. Dyslexics are thought to make up between 4-8% of the British population. Studies have suggested that the key difference between dyslexic and non-dyslexics, is that a very small minority of dyslexics cannot problem solve verbally. However, the majority of dyslexics can problem solve verbally and visually, which means they move between words and pictures. Sometimes with great difficulty. But difficulty is not a sign of a lack of ability.
Dyslexics do not compensate for a deficit. Rather dyslexics, because they tend to think visually and holistically, see connections between things that others who think verbally and lineally miss. Many dyslexics are also driven by a passion, and this may derive from their skill at spotting something that nobody else has done or thought of before (a dyslexic writing festival for example) and then committing themselves to it like ivy to a wall. As a labrador to its owner; like flour to wet hands.
A dyslexic is very loyal to their passions, but the dyslexic’s real skill is in communication. This is why the definition of dyslexia as a ‘language disorder’ is so peculiar. A paradox even. Many dyslexics have the ability to ask great questions. They are good at seeing through facade and even better at assimilating information. They are also superb at convincing other people that their ideas are interesting, and they sweep up others in their enthusiasm. Non-dyslexics may see them as bonkers because they don’t know where they get their ideas, enthusiasm and commitment from. They appear to have materialised from nowhere, like a bunny in a magicians hat.
As children, we dyslexics were constantly masking mistakes and mistakes are how we learn. Other people might notice our mistakes more often because they are obvious (writing backwards, spelling mistakes are not hard to miss, even to dyslexics it might surprise you to note!), but if we haven’t been put off by our failures, it is because we have learnt very early on that failure is the doorway. Error is possibility. We know that after we have collapsed with shame, we are going to have to do it again anyway, so might as well get it over with. For dyslexics, a mistake is all in a days work. It is not the end but the beginning. A mishap does not shake a dyslexic because to survive we had to learn the hard way: mistakes do not mean you are a dumb (although the thought may occur to you from time to time), mistakes mean you are going to do it better next time. Fingers crossed.
This is what I wrote back, in the dark, to my colleague. To my dear dyslexic friend, actress, writer, entrepreneur, Lennie Varvarides, who is the mastermind behind the dyslexic writing festival: DYS-PLA. It was a reminder, in the middle of the night: What we are doing is challenging the way in which stories can be told. We are raising the question: what can dyslexics teach us about story telling? They are after all amazing communicators. Visionaries. Passionate people who take mistakes as opportunities. People who leave you thinking: well I never thought about it like that before!
At the festival I am looking forward to launching an anthology of dyslexic writers, Forgotten Letters, which includes a wonderful poem from your very own Sally Gardener. I first learnt about Sally’s work by talking with another dyslexic writer, Rebecca Loncraine, who will be speaking at the launch along with Benedict Philips about dyslexia and writing. There will also be readings, some magic tricks and some time to ask questions and chat. It starts at 6 and it is free to get in.
The launch is part of the DYS-PLA Festival 2011, our biggest festival to date with over 40 practitioners involved and includes a mix of writers, poets, musicians, artists, actors, directors and guest speakers. Here, you won’t learn what dyslexics are, or what dyslexia is. You certainly will not find any magic potions to cure dyslexia! If you did attend however, you might just find yourself inspired, amused, entertained and surprised. Part of something a bit different. Information about the launch can be found here: http://www.r-a-s-p.co.uk/ Information about the festival here: http://www.thelittleboxoffice.co/msft/event/view/519. We hope to see you there.