Saturday, May 14, 2016

Dyslexia and Me

I found out at 29 that I had dyslexia. It made a lot of sense. When I was a kid I used to write my d's and b's back to front and my Mum showed me a piece of paper of my writing once that kind of freaked me out - every single letter was written backwards! It was kind of awesome. It was like I'd invented my own language. I have no memory of ever writing like that though. Looking back on my childhood it kind of bugs me that no one ever noticed I had this stupid thing. I can remember telling my teacher's I could not read the black board and that I could see weird floating balls of light in my vision. No one listened. Surprise, surprise, I did not do well in school. I grew up thinking I was stupid. I stopped trying at all in school eventually - it didn't help that I also had dyscalculia and dysgraphia on top of my dyslexia and dyspraxia.

It wasn't until I was in Year Nine that I met a teacher who actually paid attention to me. I can't remember his name now (and this bothers me) but I can remember he was from Canada and here on exchange. He would turn up at school in shorts on days the rest of us were freezing and tell us in his hilarious accent "What are you talking about? this is not cold! this is beautiful weather!"

He was the first teacher who ever gave me an A. I was so used to seeing D's and C's and F's I thought it was a mistake when I saw that A. He was also the person who encouraged me to start writing. I would give him my stories to read and he would critique for me. He said to me once "When you become a published writer and your book comes out in Canada I will be in first in line to buy it." I wonder if he ever knew how much he helped me or gave me encouragement I desperately needed. Up until that point I thought I was good at nothing but he showed me I could be good at something if I worked at it. And that was that. I became a writer. It consumed me. I poured all of my energies into learning creative writing and slowly - bit by bit - my grades began to pick up a little as my love for writing trickled over into other grades. Amazing what a little attention from a teacher can do to a troubled student, eh?

I'm learning more and more about my disabilities and how they affect me when I get older. I tried to take a couple of grammar classes in university and apparently for a person like me it's like trying to learn Klingon. I tried really hard but my brain is just not wired to understand grammar that difficult. I know the basics - barely - but the fact is there is just too many grammar rules to remember. I think even a "normal" person would struggle to remember all the different terms. And let's be honest important is it really that we need to know what a modal verb is? I think most people probably wouldn't know what it is. The more I tried to stuff more grammar knowledge into my brain the more I forgot what I'd already tried to memorize. Somehow though I passed both units. And learnt a valuable lesson...grammar is not my friend!

What's been annoying me about dyslexia lately is I've been realizing more and more how much it affects my writing and reading ability. I can read OK enough. The words do not move, I don't do the backwards writing thing anymore, but I do have problems with light. But the thing that annoys me the most is my spelling. I insert random words into a sentence that have nothing to do with what I wanted to write. I might plan to write "The cat wears a brown hat" and somehow - randomly - insert an extra word in there like "e-mail" maybe because I got distracted for a fraction of a second and thought about sending an email. But when I go back and re-read that sentence I might miss the extra word. I do other things like write "administrate" instead of "administration" and since the word is so similar to the one I wanted and written correctly I will miss it.

Sometimes this will mean I will make some hilarious mistakes. I sent an email at work once telling people I'd found a thumb drive and asking if it belonged to anyone. Instead of writing "sand disk" I wrote "sand dick" but did not realize it until after I'd sent the email. When I realized my error I collapsed into fits of giggles. I corrected the mistake and sent the email again. Whoops!

JK rowling can write whatever she wants

I've been following the criticism that has been building online for a while now as JK Rowling fleshes out her wizardly world to include America in it. There is a spin off Harry Potter movie coming out soon called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them and its obvious that the work JK is doing is supposed to tie into that film (which I am super excited about) but people have not been that happy with what she has revealed about the American wizardly world. There were complaints that the terms she'd invented like no-maj sounded nothing like a word that Americans would use and didn't have the charm of Muggle. People didn't like it. But so what? It's her world. Her story. Weird silly names are her thing. But that criticisms did not end there. When JK revealed even more about the American wizard world people freaked out over the inclusion of Native American myths and accused her of racism and cultural appropriation.

It was silly. It was a huge over reaction. JK rowling has done nothing wrong getting inspiration from Native American culture. Its what writers do. We get inspiration from history and mythology and fairy tales. Its one of the oldest traditions in writing. How many stories are based off Greek myths or Roman myths or Norse myths? J.R.R Tolkien based Lord of the Rings off Norse myth. This has been happening forever. And its ok. If no one owns an idea or a story then a writer does not have to ask permission to use it. It belongs to everyone.

At the same time I can understand why some people were upset with her though. JK Rowling's decision to include Native American's in Harry Potter has pulled them and their very real beliefs into her fictional world. Their beliefs are not a joke. And then there is the stereotype of the wise and mystical native to think about.

But if JK Rowling had not included them people would have asked "Why not?" so I feel like she was stuck between a rock and hard place. Could she had done a better job? Sure. Could she had pleased everyone? Oh hell no. Even if she had gotten an American to help her flesh out this new corner of her world she probably still would have done something or said something to offend someone. You can't please everyone. Someone will always find something to complain about.

What I find interesting is the air of entitlement coming from a lot of the people who have been complaining about her choices. I know Harry Potter has been around for a while and has been apart of a lot of people's lives for a long time but we do not own this story. She does. It's her world. If you don't like the decisions she is making then don't see the new film. But stop getting so worked up over a children's book. Do the new houses have bad names? Yeah. They're not as adorable as the British ones. But who cares? Seriously. Stop whinging. Its just a story. She doesn't owe you anything.

It would be nice if I could make a real living at writing

I gave up on making a career out of writing a long, long time ago and that was before I decided to switch from fiction writing to article writing. I used to joke that there was more of a chance of me finding money at the beach with a metal detector than there was me becoming a success with writing. It's just too difficult. It can happen, sure. You might make some money. But enough money to live off? Only a very select few are that lucky and sometimes I pity them. Look at George R.R Martin. The poor bastard can't go anywhere without someone asking him "Have you finished your next book?" I couldn't handle the pressure.

Since having a child I don't have the time or energy to write fiction anymore and I was feeling a bit down about it. I felt like I wasn't really a writer anymore. But then I decided to change direction and switch to writing articles. I felt encouraged again. I could do this. Writing an article is a lot like writing an essay. You do a lot of research and then you put your thoughts onto paper. What's good about writing an article compared to fiction writing is it is a lot easier than writing fiction and I can finish an article in a weekend. A decent short story or novel could take me months or even longer.

Once I finish university next year I am going to try and devote a lot of time to writing articles and see where it takes me. Will I make a career out of this? I don't know. Maybe. I think there's more of a chance of it happening than me becoming a best selling author. I am in the process of trying to build up experience and a bit of a port folio. One thing annoys me though and that's how many people expect me to work for them for free. There are benefits to working for free. You get exposure. You get experience. Those are both good things. But not being paid annoys me. It doesn't seem fair. Writing is hard, hard work. I find it frustrating that writers let themselves work for peanuts or even less. If we are working for you as writers for your magazine don't we deserve minimum wage at least? You would think so right? But apparently, nope.

I like places that will pay me $100 per article. It's a decent amount of pocket money. It's fair. It's rewarding me for my work. I've accepted I can probably never make a living doing this but the very least publications can do is chuck me a couple of peanuts per article. Give me some reward. Don't get me wrong. Being published is great. But you know what else is great? Paying the bills.