Telling our own story/ies

“We deserve a chance…not to be defined by what we struggle with and what we are not, but to be seen as whole people with a mix of strengths and weaknesses. We deserve a chance to add to the narrative on dyslexia that historically had been dominated by (albeit well meaning) non-dyslexics.”

Sarah Fearn, editor’s preface, everything is spherical (2014)

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I sense a change is coming. Our voices are getting louder. Whether it’s on social media or through storytelling or advocacy work, people with dyslexia want/need to tell their own stories.

This is no small thing.

This is an act of bravery, even defiance, in a world that presumes to tell us who we are and how we feel; that we are broken, where we are broken, and how we can (or can’t) be “fixed.” This comes from the strangest places. Not just from the trolls, but even the people who aim to help. So many labels, but very little real understanding.

Telling our own stories is not only cathartic, it is imperative to changing the dyslexia narrative in our society, and creating dyselxia-friendly policies and programs.

I’ve already written about the dyslexic film making collective Dyspla and writer Philip Schultz. More recent voices: Richard Branson unabashedly promoting dyslexic advantages through his new charity Made by Dyslexia, the Dyslexia Portrait creating visual representations of dyslexia, and…the list goes on (we’ll be highlighting as many as we can in the coming months).

It’s an undeniable fact: our voices are growing in number every day. This is an exciting time in the history of dyslexia.

I had that same spark of excitement when I read everything is spherical–an anthology of dyslexic writers edited by Sarah Fearn and Naomi Folb. The collection was published in October 2014 in the UK by the world’s-greatest-publisher-name, Rebelling Against Spelling Press.

I read the entire 250-page book, cover to cover, on a four-hour train ride (Ottawa to Toronto, if you’re curious). And I have reread it a few times since then.

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As a dyslexic reader, I was immediately invited to relax and be myself. That kept me reading.

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The collection includes memoir and fiction. Not all the stories are about dyslexia, though many are.

What unites the collection is the desire to re-imagine “how dyslexia – and dyslexics – should be viewed.”

This is acheived by giving collective voice to the very real lived past, present and future of people with dyslexia. There is pain on these pages, but there is also triumph, humour and strength.

“Across all these pieces one thing stands out to me, a desire for, and a lack of understanding. It is what produces suffering in these pieces, and in my dyslexic people’s lives.

I think it’s something that should be recorded and remembered, the suffering and triumph of dyslexic people, even as I hope this will change so we are more included in education and society.” Sarah Fearn, editor’s preface, everything is spherical

Each story is unique, but common themes/ideas emerge across the writing. Here’s what dyslexic writers say about:

Dyslexia and creativity.

“My mind is a three-dimensional spherical Mobius strip of sorts that perceives the world in multi-coloured shapes that hum and sing out of the world and my ever-shifting place in it.” Rebecca Loncraine, Everything is spherical

Winning the battle with the written word: Disregard grammar and spelling. Read in a non-linear way. Let go of words.

“Whatever you do, do not be inhibited by convention.” Naomi Folb, introduction

Discrimination/Childhood wounds.

“If nothing else, I learnt what is was like to be schooled as an inferior, second-rate citizen.” Matthew Scurfield, With due respect

Advantages.

Aside from a lifelong struggle with shame, I now believe passionately than being a part, or side, or indeed anything to be ashamed of, dyslexia stands out as an integral an important asset. I’m convinced that thinking visually, spatially, or, if you need one of the labels, being dyslexic, saved me from a life of mediocrity and made seemingly impossible tasks possible.” Matthew Scurfield, With due respect

Strength/Resilience.

“Go ahead, judge me. Just remember that at some point in your life of dry-cleaned suits and pristine credit, you too, will know desperation.” Kristen McHenry, Animus

Disobedience/dysobedience.

“To be dyslexic is to dysobey. Not as defiance, but because we must.” Ross Cooper, Dysobedience

Community.

“We’d like to put a hand out to you through the pages of this book. You can grasp it if you want us to pull you up out of somewhere, or you can shake it to say hello, or hold onto it out of solitary.” Louise Tondeur, Forward Forward

Finding your voice, and using it too.

“I began to be a disobedient dyslexic child when I found a voice.” Alex Nile, The Dyslexic Terrorist

I love how the writers played with language and challenged assumptions (about dyslexia and about writing) in everything is spherical.

As with any literary collection, you’re not going to agree with or enjoy every word or story. But that’s also why this one’s worth reading: it challenged my own beliefs about what it means to be dyslexic (wrongly and long engrained in me by school and society)…and encouraged me to loosen up (and that oh-so-difficult task of letting go of words) when I write.

Now if I could just convince my employer that spelling mistakes are an important part of the creative process…

2 thoughts on “Telling our own story/ies

  1. One of my dearest friends was dysleixc ( no longer on this planet sadly) and as an army wife she was impelled by her social conscience to take up the social iissues of disadvantaged army families, and began writing in the magazine Soldier to right many injustices. Her writing became so powerful, as she lobbied MP.s Generals and anyone with the power to help that she changed the whole picture for army families, and then through her writing was able to start playgroups and child care for army families, wives clubs to support them when husbands were overseas, unemployment benefits for wives whose careers were spoiled by being posted overseas with their husbands and so many other achievements… when we were young I used to puzzle and giggle over her letters which were full of gaps where she’d meant to look up the dictionary, and forgotten .. such a amazing and beautiful and beloved woman….

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    • Hello Valerie, thank you for visiting and commenting! What an interesting story–you alway have the most interesting anecodotes! Your description of your friend’s writing is so interesting. In the days before personal computers and spell check I imagine. It is much easier to be dyslexic nowadays I think, but it doesn’t seem to have held your friend back. Thanks again dear Valerie. Hugs from Canada.

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