The sharp eyed amongst you will be aware that when last month’s blog first appeared on my website, desert (very dry land with little rainfall) was spelled dessert (a sweet pudding). Soon rectified, it is an example of one of my brains irritating idiosyncrasies. I am mildly dyslexic and I combat this by a number of stratagems that are by now second nature, but also sometimes fail. Words that sound similar but are spelled differently are what my brain struggles with in particular. Once when writing a novel I resorted to telephoning a friend asking, ‘Rye, not the grain the humour, how do you spell it?’ Because knowing how to spell the grain is not the least help when wanting to use the expression wry humour. A week prior to last month’s blog I was woken at night with a headache so severe I thought some evil being must surely be in inside my brain torturing me. A migraine I presume; I did not recover for a full ten days. It was like jet-lag and flue rolled into one with a quite unmanageable level of tiredness. At times of illness, tiredness or anxiety my ability to recognise and differentiate between some words falls away.
It was only when I embarked on my Writing the Visual MA, where a number of my cohort being sent off for linguistic assessments, that I recognised some of their coping strategies in myself. Not just the spelling, but other indicators that I had not linked with dyslexia; an exceptional and precise interest in the visual placement of objects, a habit of over-planning and organising. Always doing more than is required of me is massive over-compensating for what is, on the scale of potential life problems, really rather a small issue. The trouble is that dyslexics have usually arrived at adulthood having endured a ludicrously out of proportion level of scorn and disdain; ironic when you consider that to be clinically defined as dyslexic by the traditional method, you must have an above average IQ. Typically dyslexics were written off as stupid and bullied. Their work was scrawled over by a scathing teacher and a parent may have suggested that they were hardly worth educating. They have grown up without self-belief or confidence and as a result they have spent much of their life avoiding close contact with words.
So what’s so clever in the dyslexic brain that it is considered a gift? Amongst other things, it was recently revealed that dyslexics are better at breaking codes. Bletchley Park during the war recognised this and GCHQ currently finds that dyslexics make far better code breakers than those who do not have the condition. The dyslexic brain is also a highly imaginative and flexible brain; perhaps because of the need to try different approaches to obtain the same ends; dyslexics tackle problems from a different angle and can be extremely inventive and inventively practical. The expression ‘creative thinking’ could have been invented for the dyslexic brain - dyslexics think out of the box.
Dyslexics turn up on creative courses, not just art, but writing too. These highly imaginative and clever people find their way to creative writing despite many people’s efforts over the years to put them off. The thing about creative writing is that a definite requirement is re-writing; the first draft is never good enough. The text needs fashioning, altering, crossing out and replacing. Students are surprised when I say crossing out is a good thing, I want to see it. It shows that the writer, unsatisfied with a particular word is thinking a better way of crafting a sentence. Crossing out in many school rooms of the past amounted to a visual record of failure to grasp a concept or lack of aptitude; the slashing through of words and sentences a horrible reminder of red pens and tearful homework meltdowns. Not so when fashioning a work of fiction. Countless drafts are written and re-written, of course the final draft must be polished and error free, but there are others whose talents can be put to good use polishing a manuscript. As Robert Graves stated: ‘There is no such thing as writing. Only good re-writing.’
I picked out the names of some famous dyslexics: Lewis Carroll – author, A A Gill – Sunday Times Journalist, Leonardo Da Vinci – polymath, John Irving – Novelist, Steve Jobs – Apple founder, Pablo Picasso – artist, Jules Verne – author, Benjamin Zephaniah – poet, Richard Rogers – architect, Richard Branson – entrepreneur, Albert Einstein – theoretical physicist.
That looks like good company to me.