Demystification & All That Jazz

I think one of the hardest things about our dyslexia journey was when a rumor was spread throughout my son’s elementary school that he wasn’t being read to at home, because his mom (that’s me) is dyslexic. When my boy still struggled after his stint with Reading Recovery (a reading intervention not designed for dyslexics), it was rumored that he came from “word poverty” and that his home environment must be to blame. That was incredibly hurtful.

Books have always been important in my life. I have always dreamt of writing and illustrating children’s books, and maybe someday I will. I love the feeling of a book in my hand and the good cheesy smell of books. Books are romantic. If you carry a good looking book around with you, you instantly appear at least 25% smarter. If you ignore people while attempting to read in public, you appear at least 30% more mysterious — especially if the jacket cover is a little macabre. This is just based on my opinion, and I’m only going on years of my own personal observations that I fondly refer to as, “people watching.” Books can inspire conversation with intellectual strangers. That said, books are a great accessory for a psychopath (ever read about Ted Bundy? Yikes!).

I like the way books look on a bookshelf and the way they make a room feel. Warm. Inviting. Rich. Intellectually messy if randomly placed. I think books can make a space feel magical, especially if they are set off by interesting bookends.

I used to build things with books; stairs, couches, doll beds and cat houses. As a kid, they were so much more than books to me, they were building blocks. During church, I’d take my blue bible with metallic silver edging and I would flip the pages in a manner that made the pages appear to be rolling ocean waves that glinted in the sunlight. Indeed, books are entertaining. I appreciate a great jacket cover. I study jacket covers and will even buy a book because of the illustrations and artfully designed cover. A beautifully designed book looks great sitting on a coffee table; it’s an inexpensive way to bring art into a space (hey, designers use books this way all the time). I grew up in a home where we sometimes struggled to keep the lights on, but we had Van Gough on the coffee table and a library of books that filled an antique wardrobe which took me to Narnia. No kidding. I’d take the books out of the wardrobe, so I could walk into the wardrobe, and go to Narnia.

Books are a necessary layer needed to fully embody a certain quality of life that dyslexics enjoy too.

Okay, I’ve playfully propagated a stigma, but allow me to demystify a common myth. NEWSFLASH: Dyslexic people read books. True story. Dyslexics can read (depending on individual severity of course because dyslexia runs a spectrum). Dyslexics want to read books because we crave stories–especially stories where the hero is unexpected, is born into adversity and surprises us all in the end. We want to read books to get information because we’re prone to research things–we have an insatiable appetite for answers to questions. We want to read books because we need to connect the dots and we want to be transported away from reality just like anyone else. If I can, I’ll find a way to get that story even if that involves crawling through a book in a tedious manner that resembles a toddler climbing a long flight of stairs — so be it.

Today, technology helps me immensely. I’m severely dyslexic and I work incredibly hard at reading. I use speech to text. I have text read to me on my computer, which is especially handy when I’m expected to read something that provides me with little reward — like the news. Here’s a really frightening concept to some, but technology is taking away my need to have to eye read, and it’s providing me the tools to read more than I ever thought possible. It’s a different approach. Suddenly I’m really enjoying a world that only non-dyslexics are naturally invited to partake it. Move over, make room for me — I’m here, and I’m going to squeeze in and sit right next to you; don’t mind the earphones. Like the Frank Sinatra song, I’m doing it my way. It’s a new dawn and technology is empowering for all dyslexics who struggle to read. I download books constantly and sometimes, and if I’m lucky, the author will actually read to me. Let me just say, when Neil Gaiman reads his books, the experience of hearing his voice reading his own work as it’s meant to be read, is not lacking in any way. Yes, it’s much easier for me to ear read because eye reading is unnatural for me and it causes so much extra work — and I mean work. Still, I can read. In fact, I read every single day. Reading is a massive labor of love. When a non-dyslexic finishes a long novel, they may close the book and sigh in deep contentment. When I finish a novel I celebrate by placing a flag on top of it, you know, as one would do if they climbed to the peak of Mount Everest. Reading an entire novel is a giant feat of nature and I will always mark the event as a major life victory.

In the end it doesn’t matter how the story or information went in, it’s how it comes out. I paint stories and these symbols come out of my head and go all over my canvas–words meld into visual art. You cannot walk into my home without seeing large-scale artwork full of literary references. Take, Eve, for example. Eve is a painting I did years ago. She has a long thin neck and has to lean her heavy head on an apple core to hold it upright. Apple blossoms sprout out of her bosom, and her bra strap is visible. Eve feels the weight of the world. While some of my paintings have obvious references (like Eve), others are my own story. One day, an art professor walked by one of my paintings with his class. He stood in front of my painting and exclaimed, “this artist is saying too much.” I was saying too much. That painting was my equivalent of, War and Peace.

Reading books to my son was easy. I have most children’s books memorized by now–I’ve read so many in my lifetime, and I’ve read them over and over and over. Reading books brought us both great joy. Looking at the pictures, talking about the characters (who often became household names), was a relished pastime amidst an era of little sleep and hyper toddler activity that hinged daily on just keeping that little boy alive. Books were that extra layer of happiness that filled our lives. I read to him even before he was born. He didn’t hear my mistakes — just my voice.

“Come, boy, come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and eat apples and play in my shade and be happy.” I painted his bedroom with illustrations out of the book, Where the Wild Things Are. That room was a visual wild rumpus and it’s a wonder he ever slept at all. We more than read the books together, we experienced them. We went into the illustrations. For example take the book, Leonardo the Terrible Monster,

we pretended to drink Leonardo’s coffee and we talked on his cellphone. People would visit and they would ask me why my boy was talking on a tiny invisible cellphone. That was Leonardo’s cell phone. Moving on…

How could anyone think I was depriving my son from a childhood of storybooks, fairytales, fables, fantasies and science-fiction? If you saw the library of books I provided for my boy, that was nothing compared to the library of stories we created together out of our combined imaginations. My boy and I often think about the total depravity of those who will never read our incredible stories. This sounds pompous, I know, but together we feel that we have imagined some of the best stories in all the known universe. It’s true and we know this for certain, because we have compared them to all the children’s stories you can buy in a bookstore, purchase through a Scholastic book fair, check-out at your local library, and that currently sit in our attic. To us, our stories are the best kept secret known to man. No silly rumor or outside influence will ever be able to take this away from us.

That rumor? That was yet another layer of the type of misunderstandings dyslexics often experience in life. If it is thought that all dyslexic mothers do not provide their children with books, literature, words — that we don’t read to our children, please allow me the opportunity to change that narrative.


Originally published at mariauxart.com on November 6, 2015.

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