Dyslexia. Usually associated with seeing words backwards and difficulty with reading and writing, it was never something I thought I would have.
But here I am. A dyslexic writer. A perfect contradiction. Just how I like to be.
I was diagnosed at the age of twenty. I had gone through school, college and the first year of university with not a glimmer of the word dyslexia ever being associated with me. But that isn’t to say I didn’t have issues, it’s just that no one recognised them as being a part of dyslexia.
If you want to read more about my journey with finding out about my dyslexia and how I use it to be a better writer, click here.
Picture this. A young girl, sitting upside down in an armchair, pigtails dangling on the floor. She’s sucking a lollypop that makes her tongue go bright red. Her eyes are transfixed on the crotch of the older man sitting opposite her, but every time he catches her gaze, she looks away. She’s a Lolita, right? ‘Lo-Lee-Ta’, a ‘minx’, a temptress.
She’s just a twelve-year-old girl, alone, lost. No one to rely on but this man who wants things from her that she doesn’t understand even know he’ll tell you she does. He’ll tell you she was looking at his crotch when she was really just daydreaming. We’ve forgotten. We’ve let Lolita become a Lolita, forgetting she was ever a Dolores.
Picture this. I’m sitting on my sofa in coffee-stained pyjamas, re-reading Vladamir Nabokov’s Lolita. On the TV playing quietly in the background, is a news report about Harvey Weinstein. And it hits me. He’s Humbert Humbert. In fact, lately, it seems the earth is full of Humbert Humberts. We have become exactly what Nabokov was first satirizing. Time repeats itself forever and ever again.
The original Lolita was Dolores. She was twelve years old, she was a rape victim, she was a sex slave. Lost and motherless, Dolores was vulnerable and powerless, looked after by the person who was too obsessed with having her to actually care for her. Everything Nabokov wrote in Lolita was written through the eyes of a very manipulative and talented writer. Everything about her was written through her abuser, a man who threatened she’d be taken to an orphanage if she wouldn’t please his sexual desires. We were manipulated by Humbert Humbert just like Dolores was, and it’s only when you look past the beauty do you realise how horrific what H.H did to her truly was.
The book is a reflection of how people are fooled by beautiful things. By clever words or talented performances, if you’re likeable or rich and you’re good at something, you might be able to get away with anything. Even murder, rape or paedophilia. But we know this right? After the truth about our favourite TV presenters came out, our politicians, our police officers, it was clear that even your neighbour could be just like Ted Bundy. But none of it was enough to stop us going down that same path of creating excuses and elaborate apologies for abusers. None of it was enough to stop us blaming the victim and protecting the abusers. None of it was enough to stop Dolores becoming Lolita, forever.
Nabokov made it very clear that Humbert was not insane. Deeply flawed and lacking in self-awareness, definitely. But not insane. We’d like to think that all abusers were somehow driven by the voices telling them to do something awful, but that’s not true for a lot of them. And let’s face it — if either film adaptations of the novel portrayed Dolores as she truly was described in the book; a young girl who was not conventionally attractive who had “monkeyish nimbleness”, both films would have made people a lot more uncomfortable than they did. In fact, the films did the opposite. They made Lolita into, for the most part, a willing party in the sordid affair with her step-father. They made her an iconic sex object, a ‘thing’ to obsess over, just like Humbert did. And unlike the book, which encourages readers to understand the narrator’s unreliable view and question what he is describing, films have a tougher time with expressing that what they’re showing you is only from the perspective of one character. Suddenly ambiguity becomes something solid. The objectified child becomes the willing sex object. Just Google the word ‘Lolita’ and thousands of images of sexualised girls or women made to look younger appear before your eyes.
Hollywood is rife with paedophiles. I was shocked to find out recently that a convicted paedophile, Victor Salva, who sexually molested a twelve-year-old boy who was an actor on the set of a film he was directing, was hired by Disney (and Harvey Weinstein) to direct a film for them. And that’s just one of many, many cases of directors, actors and producers who have been accused and on some occasions like Salva, been convicted of paedophilia or sex-related crimes and still been hired to work with children and vulnerable people looking for their breakthrough role.
In everyday life, if someone gets caught with child pornography, or hurting or molesting a child, it’s near enough impossible for them to integrate back into everyday society. They are condemned, even in prisons where they sometimes have to be sectioned off from the general population for their own safety. For every job I’ve ever had you have to inform them of any criminal history, and if there’s a chance you’ll come into contact with children at your job, you have to get an even deeper background check. Yet in Hollywood, it seems you can do horrific things to children or non-consenting adults, even at your place of work, and be hired again and again. And be successful. And win awards. If you’ve got a way with words like Humbert, or maybe you make pretty good films, or shit, maybe you just know the right people. Hollywood will forgive you for anything.
We’ve forgotten to look past the lights and the camera for the action. “Nabokov ‘never lets us forget that there is something monstrous about Humbert’s desire for Lolita'”, but in real life, we’re too busy wondering what the victim was wearing to think about what the abuser’s intentions, wondering what the victim might have done to spur their abuser on. But there is never a good enough reason for abuse, never a good enough excuse. Mental illness often has very little to do with it, often a person does what they’ve learnt they can get away with. Dolores is not a temptress or a sultry tease who got what was coming to her. She was a child. She was a victim. She is not your Lolita. We are not your Lolita’s.
Author Jack Kerouac once wrote an article for Writer’s Digest in 1962 that posed the question, ‘Are Writers Born or Made?’
Since I was a child, stories always came to me as easily as speaking did. I made up stories while playing with toy animals, stories when playing games with friends, and stories in my head to send me off to sleep. I had a thirst for reading as a child, and practically devoured books at every chance I got. I was in love with the way that stories could take you to another world and capture and immerse you in it’s world completely.
They say great readers are great spellers, but I had always struggled with spelling. No matter how many times I could look at a word, break it down into sections, if I couldn’t spell it…I couldn’t spell it. Each time I wrote a word that I couldn’t spell, my spelling of it would change, sometimes creating a nearly illegible word. Despite this, my inability to spell never seemed to be much of an issue other than in written work that I couldn’t spell check on a computer. I put a lot of it down to laziness. I was so eager to get my story down on paper, I didn’t want to spend time finding out the correct spelling to things.
But despite my struggles with spelling, I never had an issue with reading or writing. I looked forward to every English lesson and was practically a ‘teacher’s pet’ to all of the English teachers I ever had. I read books that were at a much higher reading level than my age and achieved A’s in English at GCSE. Writing and reading always has been my passion.
So of course, growing up no one had even a sliver of suspicionthat I may have had dyslexia, how could I? Writing was my lifeblood and I thrived from the escapism of reading.
Younger me would never have guessed that two months before my twenty first birthday, I would be diagnosed with a moderate to severe form of dyslexia by an educational psychologist at my university.
Now that I’ve been diagnosed, looking back on my academic endeavors is eye opening. During college when completing A Levels, my love for English Literature was overshadowed by my frustration with writing essays. When it came to starting essays and getting my thoughts down on paper, I would get overwhelmed with ideas that I wanted to include. Usually this would end up with me either including far too many topics in one paragraph and then eventually losing steam, or spending far too long on one topic and subsequently, ‘waffling’. I could never articulately express what was in my head.
But university was truly where most of my dyslexia symptoms bubbled to the surface. Studying creative writing, of course I had essays to write and creative portfolios to complete. And even though I was getting good grades, I always felt held back by my inability to properly express myself the way I wanted to. I found myself constantly frustrated by marks I lost on small mistakes. It wasn’t from lack of trying either, with constant proofreading and even re-writing whole essays from scratch, I’d always miss more than one simple grammatical mistake. Mistakes that my lectures assumed were down to rushed work or lack of proofreading, although that was far from the case.
According to the charity Dyslexia Action, “one in ten of the population are expected to have dyslexia.” People tend to associate this learning difficulty with struggling with reading and writing, and seeing words backwards or seeing them move around. Of course these are common symptoms experienced by people with dyslexia, but I never experienced those, and neither do many others. Symptoms like problems with telling from left to right, the inability to notice patterns or not recognizing the separate sounds that make up words are just a few of the symptoms that I have. None of which I ever realised were a part of having dyslexia.
The Relief of Being Diagnosed
Suddenly many things that I had been silently struggling with had a reason and an answer, and I was awoken to the fact that I had been fighting with a learning disability all along. Although my diagnoses was a shock to not only me but my family, it’s also been incredibly empowering to realise that despite my learning difficulty, I’ve worked hard and still managed to achieve high academic grades, beenaccepted into university and continued to write even when I’ve hit many mental blocks along the way. And I’m not the only one who feels empowered by their dyslexia diagnoses, Emily on an online forum for people with dyslexia said her adult diagnosis “felt liberating” and explained that having an answer for the aspects she struggled with are “eye opening and a relief to finally know why it is that I struggle with certain things. I no longer think that I’m just stupid.”
Kerouac said in his article that there are ‘born’ writers and writers who are ‘made’. I believe I wasn’t born a writer but born a storyteller, and not made but rather forced into writing, propelled by the innate need to create and tell stories. I can tell you a great story from the library of them hat I have floating around my head, but I guess I’m still figuring out the whole ‘writing’ thing.
If you feel you may have dyslexia, or want to learn more about it, Dyslexia Action is a great place to start. Or feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
When I was at college studying English Literature, we were tasked with writing an essay arguing for the inclusion of a piece of literature, song or poem to be included in the literary canon. The western literary canon is a rather outdated collection of literature, music and art that scholars accept as the most important and influential when it comes to shaping western culture. Of course the canon is seen by most people as widely restrictive and noninclusive of work by authors and artists from different racial backgrounds and genders, as most of it’s included works have been created by white, European men (but really, what did you expect?)
My time at college was also the time where I really developed my love for hip hop and rap music. As a white girl who grew up on her Dad’s punk rock music, and her Mum’s eclectic mix of 80’s pop and Elvis, rap music was rather unknown territory for me back then. Around this time I had discovered a lot of rap artists, but my favorite had soon proved to be Jay-Z, arguably one of the most well known hip hop/rap artists since the 90’s when he first emerged onto the scene. Getting tasked with this essay at the time I was becoming obsessed with rap music was really a great way to explore and learn about the history of rap, how it came to be, and why I had suddenly fallen in love with it. I decided to do my essay about Jay-Z and his music, the meat of my argument being that rap music was poetry in another form and highly influential to a huge group of people.