I self diagnosed it in my mid twenties on a NYC subway car. I was staring up from my seat at an ad – maybe a Dr. Zizmor ad – and suddenly realized my brain was transposing words. ‘Beautiful Clear Skin’ might register as ‘Clear Skin Beautiful’. Prior to that moment on the subway, the not-exactly-instantaneous mental gymnastics required to compensate for the mirror image – countless times by then – had been entirely unconscious. What an awful, distracting burden for a young mind.
In a related symptom, I eventually recognized that my eyes scan everything from right to left making reading English very difficult. Even now, I battle with it every day. That part of my brain was wired for the middle east and like those cultures, no matter the effort, I’ll never overcome the bias. I’ll always be right leaning.
My childhood had been flooded with commentary about my academic potential. I wasn’t reaching it and they couldn’t understand why, not that they tried. (I once insisted on seeing a psychiatrist, one that had been recommended by a close friend. It’s a story for another post, but I’ll reveal that the shrink turned out to be my mother’s gynecologist when I was born. That’s right.)
I sometimes allow myself to wonder what percentage of the anger, frustration and depression that defined my childhood and early adulthood was a result of dyslexia versus the anger, frustration and depression that my father experienced and shared so generously with his family. (Many future posts.)
Revelations about my dyslexia would come over time. In that subway car, though, I must have immediately understood that this bolt from the blue was crowded with implications about my life. It would be many years, nearly 40 in one case, before I’d connect the most profound. Only recently I read that dyslexia is linked to short-term memory disfunction. For me it’s always been next to impossible to remember names, a serious handicap in business. My personal life suffered as well.
When discussing memory with people over the years, I’ve often told the story of meeting a beautiful, enchanting and seemingly equally interested girl in a bar one night. I’d been visiting friends in Orange County California before moving up to Los Angeles to conquer the movie industry. (A future post.) One of those friends and I had planned to meet at that bar and I was early. The enchanted young woman had arrived with a friend who was charming in her own right. It couldn’t have been more perfect.
By the time my buddy arrived I’d been deeply engaged with my new friends for over an hour. Like a classic Rom-Com, everyone immediately clicked and we decided to have dinner together somewhere nearby. It was chilly out and we were pulling on our coats when it happened. My dream girl, yes, I was full-on smitten, suddenly turned to me and from the precise distance of the first moment of the most perfect kiss, she…
…asked a question. “What’s my name?”
After they’d left, I think I asked my friend what her name was and I think he knew it. They’d just introduced one another. And yet, in spite of it being such a seminal, heartbreaking moment, I still don’t know her name. Sure, maybe she was unreasonable and petty hightailing it out of there, but it was on me. And my memory. And my dyslexia apparently.
(I’m remembering names much better now. Another future post.)
The first really bright bulb that lit after the subway incident was that dyslexia was the reason I almost never opened a book. The only time I read for pleasure was under duress – only when flying, only when I was bored with my music and didn’t want to watch the movie and then only reluctantly – and only until airlines offered wifi. (I used the same book, Manchild in the Promised Land, for book reports in three years of junior high and high school.)
The one exception to my never-read ethos was that I read newspapers voraciously. I wanted, needed, to understand the world around me. (If you asked I’d tell you that curiosity is my best and most enduring quality. I believe a lack of curiosity is at the root of nearly every major issue America is facing today.) I must have read something about dyslexia in a newspaper and that particular synapse just happened to fire on the subway.
Dyslexia is why I had to endure the painful refrains of “can’t you try harder?” and “you have so much potential” year after year. To some meaningful degree it’s why I was an angry young man and a frustrated and depressed even-younger man. It’s why I faked illnesses so much throughout my schooling. I was absent for a third of 6th grade.
It’s why I dropped out of high school and it’s why I dropped out of college.
The reason I’m writing this post is because, in the fulfillment of one of my dearest hopes for life out here on the road, I’m reading. I always say that everything I know I learned watching TV and it’s true. At a young age, I became very smart and worldly watching TV. When it was her turn for car pool I convinced my mother to pick everyone else up first then come back for me. Why? So I could watch more TV. I knew, but I didn’t know.
In spite of the internet and my trailer’s smart TV, I’m reading. Storage space is more precious than gold yet packed and carry in the (covered and watertight) bed of my truck two substantial plastic containers of books. In some cases, books I’ve owned for decades. I will read them all. (I’ve always been very good at buying books, adding to the general frustration.)
The saccharin and obnoxious truth, one that I’ve been luxuriating in for the past few days, is that I’m currently reading Charles Kuralt’s A Life on the Road. A goodbye gift from friends in Cave Creek. (OK, they live in Carefree.) I especially appreciated the section about what a pain in the ass RVs are.
I think I’ll re-read Manchild in the Promised Land.
Fuck you dyslexia.