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Just Act Naturally…

May 16, 2011

Writing doesn’t come naturally to me.  Which is weird, both to me and a lot of people who know me, or at least thought they knew me, because for a long time when I was young, “writer” was all I wanted to be. Reading certainly came naturally. I remember reading  picture books on my own before I had glasses, probably around the end of kindergarten. In fact I was under the mistaken impression at the time that my glasses were necessary because I had been reading without enough light, as opposed to the fact that I inherited some seriously week ass retinas from  my fathers side of the family (thanks Dad, also thanks for the cataracts I’m in the process of developing…).  And I read constantly.  I soon tossed picture books aside for the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew*.  I read “The Great Glass Elevator” and all of the Illustrated Classics I could get my hands on.  Sometime around 2nd  or 3rd grade I read “The Hobbit” for the first time, and that changed my life.  I was hooked on escapism and I was confident that someday I would create my own world for others to escape into.

So what happened?

I think Math happened…

Math has always been my nemesis. Maybe in some other universe there’s a me that never struggled with math. That guy probably cured cancer, or blew up his universe. In this world the Lou Doench model came ill equipped to handle math.  It took 6 years of school to figure out why, and by that time my relationship to math had soured to the point that we could at best tolerate each other. We would never be friends, Arithmetic and I.

I don’t know how they do it now, but back in my day, early math studies involved a lot of time tables written out in mind numbing repetition. In 2nd grade Mrs. Mitchell would hold weekly timed math quizzes.  The results were public.  My results were dismal.  I would often turn them in unfinished. I swear I once turned one in unstarted.  It became part of my persona,  I was dumb at math.  Dumber  than the bullies. Dumber than everyone.  What was happening?  What should be a hazy memory from 35 years ago is still vivid in my mind. I knew that 8+8 was 16.  I knew that immediately.  But when I tried to write 16, my hand would start writing the 6… sometimes it would even get out there. And then I was fucked, because whilst I knew that you could just put a 1 in front of that and move on… my brain was still obsessing about the first mistake.  I would sometimes sit spellbound while the clock ticked down and I simply could not make my hand complete the formula.  I was stuck in a feedback loop.

It wasn’t constant, which is almost worse when I think about it now.  Whatever was going on would give me enough breaks in the torture to zip through speedily and mistake free often enough.   Which led everyone to miss what was going on, even me.  The easy answer was that I wasn’t trying hard enough, or studying hard enough. Or I was stupid, a conclusion that my peer group was happy to reinforce.**

And this went on until 5th grade.

It was hell…

I think it was actually my 4th grade teacher Ms. Auble who first noticed something past my atrocious handwriting and strange relationship with numbers.  From what I recall she was the teacher who recommended me for a pilot program starting the next year.  The first “gifted” program in the school district would consist of a dozen students from 5th and sixth grade who would essentially replace their English and social studies periods with a more open ended, hands on, and most importantly intimate teaching environment.  And the teacher, (whose name has escaped both Mom and myself) was the first person to use the word Dyslexia.

Now the condition I actually suffer from is called  Dyscalculia, (read the wikipedia article, it’s  fascinating), a diagnosis that had only been coined as early as 1974. Nobody really knew what the fuck to do about it.  Over the next two years I underwent a bunch of physical therapy to try and see if my condition was  related to some hand eye coordination problems I was also having, and I guess they were to a certain extent.  I had a lot of fun that summer, the physical therapy involved a lot of play.  And I went into junior high a little better, if not cured.  In high school Algebra was torture, but like a lot of  dyscalculia  sufferers, I did great at Geometry and Trigonometry, only to flop at Algebra 2.  My bad math skills also limited my involvement in science as well. I had to repeat a semester of chemistry, undone by the dreaded Mole and the truly fascinating things you can do with it if you can do the math.  Thanks to that SNAFU I never took Physics.  I was a teachers pet in Biology class, but  there’s math hiding there as well.  You can pretty much forget comp/sci.   It even reared its ugly head when I finally found something I was halfway decent at, photography.  Thank god for digital cameras.

So what does this have to do with writing, especially when it seems that I have, managed to write a great deal about it today?

When I sit down to write (or type in this case), a lot of the time lately… as I think about it… I feel much the same as I did way back in 1974 trying to make 8+8=16.  It’s not something that happens at the level of  words.  It has nothing to do with spelling, (I’ve actually won a couple of spelling bees.). And it’s not exactly grammar per se… although I’m sure the average english teacher would cringe at my cavalier approach to grammar here at Raising Hellions.

It’s at the level of the Sentence and Paragraph that I’m locking  up, feeling that feedback loop locking in. Staring at something I just wrote and wondering honestly… wtf did is this thing I’ve created, and did I do it right?  It looks WRONG!  I feel that same panic that kept 16 away from me all those years ago.  And who needs that?  Why buy myself anxiety when there’s laundry to fold, dishes to do and video games to play? (Oh, and porn … so much porn…)

Needless to say, these thoughts have been marauding my psyche since the last time I was here and so I decided to write about it and look! It’s a blog post… lookithat!

Now that I’ve got at least a little handle on what might be going on, I hope I can push past it and make my mark here more frequently.

* I was something of an anomaly amongst my fellow youngsters in reading both Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew unashamedly.  I loved the mysteries… in fact I thought Nancy Drew was a much better detective than the Hardy Boys.

** Now that I’ve grown in years and hopefully wisdom, I’m comfortable in telling my second grade peer group to go fuck themselves with dirty syringes of questionable providence.

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