Rock n Roll isn’t for cowards

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My 14th year of life was soul crushing. The best thing about it was meeting Molly. Ours was a classic 80s high school experience, ala any John Hughes movie. Preppy west siders ruled the school, bragging of snowboarding and cocaine on the weekends. Molly hung out with the smokers, the kids who wore black and tried not to go to class. Gus Van Sant was filming My Own Private Idaho. Molly’s friends kept inviting me to ditch and hang on set with River, Keanu. They sometimes got to party with them. All the good drugs, they said.

My friend Lisa’s mom drove us to the first Lollapalooza. We came back with matching t-shirts that carried a social currency. Total jocks gave us a right on, as if they were cheering a sports team and failing to see the irony. 1990 turned to 1991, punk broke into the mainstream. My home life was shattering. I joined the outsiders, getting drunk with the catholic girls from St. Mary’s, finding hills to drink on and watch my life slide out of view. The last day of school Molly signed my yearbook, asked me to hang out with her that summer. I’d never had someone pursue my friendship before and mean it. Flash forward a couple weeks in and Molly and I were thick as theives. We went to the 7-11 to pick up ice cream and watch the Breakfast Club for the millionth time while stoned. She skipped around me shyly, asking if we could be best friends. I thought it was the sweetest thing and laughed, saying you can’t ask someone to be best friends, you just are. Still, my answer was yes.

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Molly had a casette tape of Bleach, she showed it to me in her lunchbox. She wanted to start a band, move to Olympia. She was 14 and knew what she wanted, what she liked and didn’t like, what was wrong or right. She’d learned to stand up for herself, having experienced abuse since she was a child, passed around to uncles and foster families until her dad took her in and cleaned up. That summer changed everything. Molly was convinced something was different. We broke into her dad’s truck and found a whiskey bottle under his seat. The personality change was sudden, violent. She called DHS on him herself, for threatening her with a gun. But there was no where for her to go, she ended up in a group home for adjudicated youth, imprisoned by curfews and shitty food. She told me she wanted to die and I convinced her to write me a letter saying she wouldn’t. I still have that letter, I don’t have Molly.

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Like anyone’s high school years, there was so much living and excitement mixed with rejection and vulnerability. They were the most profoundly fucked up years and the most free and fun. Molly helped save me from depression and mania that followed an early assault and I tried to convince her to hang on. There is not a single living person who has had as much of an effect on me and I only had her in my life for five years. We were opposites. I was the shy one, she was loud. Parents, teachers and friends tried to keep us apart from each other. I often wonder what my life would have been like if they had been successful. We fought bitterly, did a-lot of bad drugs, petty crime, but Molly was also the girl with a strawberry shortcake lunchbox. who skipped around me asking me to be her friend and that never changed. She had a way of making bad situations better and she is the first one I want to call when anything happens, good or bad. It’s hard to replace something like that, people simply can’t be replaced.

20 years after she died, I looked at her seminal zine, Rock n Roll Fantasy for the first time and decided I couldn’t be the sole keeper of Molly’s artwork any longer. Please check out the teaser and share with your friends, help make Molly’s Rock n Roll Fantasy a reality!!!

Down the hall and turn the corner

Because of my dyslexia, I see space differently. In my version, I struggle with math and spatial orientation. A Doctor’s appt. in a hospital complex can turn into an anxiety filled quest for the right door, the right hallway, the right building. Reportedly, 50% of NASA employees identify themselves as dyslexic. Supposedly, dyslexics are sought out for our unique spatial awareness and problem solving abilities. My dyslexia isn’t too problematic, some tasks just take a bit longer.

Without a GPS app, it’s a struggle to drive. I use it for biking and walking, (embarrassingly) but it’s not a fail safe. I’m often to be found mumbling down the street, trying to talk myself into being kind for walking the wrong way and having to return to the beginning. Taking a deep breath, I look at the four corners of my starting point, telling myself, I ‘ve gone the wrong way, all I need to do now is go opposite. Seems simple. But, it doesn’t seem like the right way.

hqdefaultThis last bit is much like a game I play on Lumosity where your player tries to get out of a maze. This seems easy enough until they flip the board around so that left is now right, up is down. This game is my arch-nemesis, a frustration loop I know too well. In order to win at the game you have to tell yourself to use the opposite direction when your eyes “see” something different. The thing is, when they spin that game board around to try and trick you it then becomes my normal. My dyslexia has made me mistrust my instincts and reject what I see in order to function.

imagesWhat is it about this peculiar way of seeing that makes dyslexics NASA bait? It’s been described that we view the world as if in 3D, always sensing every angle, every viewpoint of the space around us. It’s hard to explain but if someone describes a road with a right and left lane, I would not initially see this as having a right and left as I would picture it from every angle, from behind the road, underneath etc, leading me to think that the right and left is different depending on which way you are looking at it. In order to function, drive and take directions I have to re-imagine space as flat and it takes a little more time to compress it onto a map.

3D-dyslexic-brainMy background as a Special Education teacher has given me many chances to work with dyslexic kids. None of them were  labelled as dyslexic as the No Child Left Behind movement has made everything in special education less individualized in it’s quest for absolute equality. In this case, the thought is that teachers and the child her/himself will have a more challenging time with the “label of dyslexia”. Most of my students were learning disabled.

me-duniwayIn my experience, school was a hated ritual. I was first put into a special reading group in elementary school. I’m not sure what the reasons were for it exactly. I do know that I memorized so I didn’t have to read aloud, my handwriting was (and still is) atrocious and I didn’t understand or take directions well. This first experience seemed like a punishment and the materials given to us in my little group were shockingly easy and boring. It was soon found out I could read quite well and I was shuttled back into the mix and placed into an advanced reading class. I wasn’t pulled out again until the fifth grade, at  Duniway. This time it was for my low performance in math and I was taken out of my regular classes completely.

My new classroom at Duniway was much like all my assigned classrooms as a SPED teacher (I taught in storage closets with cracked blackboards, roaches and mice). The walls in my new homeroom lacked color and life without all the proud testaments to mind expansion on the walls. The students were sparsely placed with elbow room to spare, as if someone were afraid of them getting too close. Everyone smiled and welcomed me mischievously into this hollow feeling room and someone whispered that I didn’t have to do any work if I didn’t want to. It was horrifying. I lasted exactly one day before crying to my parents and being placed back in the General Education setting.

IMGP1818In high school however, I would have benefited from an IEP and a diagnosis of dyslexia. It might have saved me from some of the “hard living” experiences soon to follow. As it happened, I picked up a pattern of failure and self hatred that followed me for years. It all started with this one little Algebra class I flunked. I tried, but things with abstract non visual elements were impossible to me. My teachers didn’t understand my failure to get the concepts and blamed it on laziness and a lack of following a homework regimen. I didn’t understand how I was supposed to do the homework if I didn’t understand it. My father and I had the only screaming and yelling fights we’ve had over it. I took Algebra in summer school and failed once again, miserably. To make a long story short, I gave up after that, on the concept of school and pretty much everything else.

It didn’t make sense to me that I could be bubbling over with creativity, filling notebooks with screenplays and storyboards and at the same time made to feel like a failure all because of one little subject I would never ever use. Suffice it to say, my self image changed when I realized I wouldn’t be able to pass my classes. I started my freshman year hanging with the nerds and geeks, I ended it with the smokers.

me-bw15The idea of having a society built like this, with institutions set up to churn out people judged by these same subjects with no individual choice or care for the differences in the students being taught was horrifying to me. I also saw the way out of these public institutions and it was paved in money. I wanted to go to an expensive private school that provided students with more choice, where they could tailor their classes to their interests. I saw some of my childhood friends going to this school and thriving as I wished to. My parents didn’t have the money for it but they weren’t alone, most people don’t have the money to save their kids from public education.

IMGP1802I wonder what it would have been like for me if I accepted a label of dyslexia early on and came to understand how that made me different. Instead, I fought with my parents, trying to convince them that there truly was something wrong with my mind but I didn’t know what it was. I now know I see things a little differently. Math (And Science to some degree) became difficult because I visualize everything to understand it and I couldn’t picture formulas or an unknown “x”.

Why is it then that 50% of NASA’s employees are dyslexic? I wonder how their school careers were. I wonder if they attended good colleges before getting noticed by NASA. I wonder if they came from wealthy families where there were more resources to attend to their learning disabilities. I’m asking this as someone with a learning disability and as a special education teacher who has lost faith in the system.

I would love to hear stories of dyslexics that have felt appreciated by their schools, that have soared inside this current education system. I know too much about the marginalizing of us folks, the horrifying lack of resources (my South Bronx high school waited a year just to have a school psychologist available to us) and the climate of fear and psychosis that NCLB has left in our schools. For example, the Vice Principal of a middle school I worked at told me I needed to stop teaching phonics to my class of emergent readers as they were now required by NCLB to study seventh grade test material to prepare for the tests, regardless of if they could read it.

IMGP1812This one little fact about NASA has opened up a window to my own disability. To be clear, I’m writing about it now as I’m not currently in the school system and safe from judgment. I didn’t feel the need to reveal it when I was studying for my Masters as the teachers and curriculum were the worst I’d ever experienced. I want to believe that there are places where students are appreciated and held up for their strengths and not rammed into the ground for their deficits. I used to feel the need to pipe up when an administrator told me I needed to change some kiddo’s schedule, taking away core and elective classes to put them into three periods of remedial math or reading. I’d shake my head saying, would you want to spend most of your day doing the one thing you struggle with over and over because the administration here demands you get better at it? That’s not learning anything except how to feel bad about yourself. I for one, feel encouraged by the opposite, that dyslexics can be picked out BECAUSE of our differences. That’s the society I envision thriving in one day.

www.dyslexia-aware.com/dawn/dyslexic-thinking