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Family is a word that I have pondered the last few months. I asked friends and others about family and was struck by the discussions that evolved. No matter where the conversations began, a childhood story or memory would surface. Our families undoubtedly impact us from the beginning, especially when they let us down.
It was early in my teaching career that I felt a tremendous bond with my students, a protection like that of a mother. My students were my babies and I worked around the clock to give them everything I could, often dipping into my own family’s funds to provide the best in field trips and classroom supplies for my young students. My love poured out into everything I did, but eventually it wasn’t enough.
Soon, I received reports from recess and lunchtime yard supervisors that some of my students fought every day. Day in and day out, it proved to be the same group. I spoke to each of the boys involved and began implementing consequences that resulted in daily time outs. It didn’t help. By the start of the next week, the fighting infiltrated the girls’ groups and most of the class was arguing with one another. It was taking up much of our academic time as I noticed glares dart across the classroom at peers. I’d had enough.
One afternoon, the students cleared their desks, and we had a major class discussion. I began by sharing how heartbroken I was by the fighting they had been doing. A student informed me that they had been carrying it over from the previous school year, as if they expected me to accept that as a sane reason and allow them to carry on. In wholeheartedly sharing that I saw them as my own children, I noticed how still and attentive they got. Big eyes widened and their little ears perked up.
Our school promoted being Earth protectors. Many of my young students would wander the vast campus and pick up trash, touting their good deeds for our planet. On that particular afternoon, I asked why they desired to keep our campus so clean. I jotted their reasons on the whiteboard for keeping the land beautiful, enjoyable, healthy, and safe for all. Finally, someone shared showing respect and being grateful for what we have.
That year in Social Studies, the students learned about their communities, the world, and their place in each. So, I drew a circle on a piece of paper which I projected on the screen for all to view. I continued to draw more circles and explained as I labeled each outer area. Our class was like a family. Then, we were part of a greater group which was the school community, then our city, state, country, and our planet. Smiles began to appear across their faces when they saw all that they were a part of just by being born into this world.
At that moment, I drew a heart at the center of all the circles and labeled it “You” as I shared that the goodness and peace of each group did not work without the love of each of them. Then I posed the question once again, “Why are you all fighting so much?” By this time, I knew who the main instigators were.
We sat on the floor in a wide circle as students shared their innermost fears, thoughts, and worries. They were frustrated with how older siblings and cousins had been treating them at home and chose to take that hurt out on their peers. We heard stories of parents traveling often for work or missing grandparents that lived far away. Bravely, a student shared that they were very upset with their parent for arguing with their grandparents, causing them to be apart for some time. Tears were shed while we comforted and supported one another. We made a pact that day to be a family and protect one another rather than hurt each other. We discussed how families fight and let us down and came up with ways to support one another and lead the way for the changes we wanted to see. Without prompting, the students apologized to one another. The remainder of that school year wasn’t perfect because we were a family and arguments arose here and there, but it was nothing like the disrespect we endured in the early days.
Every year after that, I expand on that lesson and to this day, I have students come back to visit and say they miss our family. Many years later, one former student returned to my classroom, eyeing the small desks, and exhaled, saying, “It’s good to be home; I’ve missed this family.”
Family does let us down, but as we prepare to enter the holiday season, may we remember that goodness and peace begin within us. Sometimes we need to let go of the family we were born into and embrace the family we get to choose as friends first.
Anna Rodriguez is a wife, mother, and writer. She is completing her first contemporary novel set in California’s Central Valley. Family and friendships are important themes in Anna’s work because of the influences they have on her life. When Anna is not writing or hanging out with her family, she can be found reading books in many genres or searching for music to add to her eclectic playlist. She recently earned her MFA in Creative Writing.
Lockdown forced us to become more familiar with our homes and neighbourhoods. Some have been delighted to discover new treasures on our doorsteps … or even behind the sofa. It left others desperate to get away. Perhaps you’ve felt a mixture of both?
The title of my novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, promises a homecoming, but it’s not straightforward. Is it ever? Whether readers consider the promise fulfilled depends on the identity of Matilda Windsor and on their concept of home. Is home where we feel most comfortable or where we spend most of our time?
Home means different things to my three main characters. Matty has spent fifty years in Ghyllside psychiatric hospital but, in her head, she’s a society hostess in a stately home. Henry, a local government officer approaching retirement, lives alone in the house where he was born, but he can’t make it homely without his sister, who left when he was a boy. Janice, a social worker in her early twenties, rents a one-bedroom flat, but still considers the house she grew up in, and the one she shared as a student with friends, as home.
Home is a popular theme in fiction; one poignant and funny novel that shaped me as a writer is Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, which I read in my teens. However, I created my character Matty, the beating heart of Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, with a much older heroine in mind. In Emma Healey’s beautiful debut, Elizabeth Is Missing, dementia is shrinking Maud’s world (and brain). As her life becomes more confusing, her house is a retreat, but eventually she’ll be too disabled to stay there safely on her own. Perhaps she’ll move in with her daughter, or be admitted to a ‘home’.
Can hospital be home for long-term residents? Ken Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest suggests not. As outlined in my post, Resettlement revisited in my novel Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, part of the motivation for the asylum closures was to give former patients somewhere to live that was more like a home.
If it’s hard for vulnerable adults to feel at home within residential services, how much harder must it be for children in the care system? In My Name Is Leon, Kit de Waal shows how tough life can be for looked-after children, especially if they are black. Silver, in Hope Farm by Peggy Frew, does have the luxury of living with her mother, but she longs to leave the commune so she can have her to herself.
For people violently uprooted, reconnection can take generations, as Yaa Gyasi illustrates in her magnificent debut about the enslavement of people from the region of Africa that is now Ghana, Homegoing. As Ben Fountain explores in the satire Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, return is also complicated for young men who’ve been damaged since leaving, especially when their individuality is denied and they are being used as political pawns.
I could go on; there must be thousands of novels about home.
Which is your favourite and what does it tell us
about the meaning of home?
Twenty years ago this Friday, I went out for a meal to celebrate my birthday with my family. My eighteen year old had graduated from high school that spring and was looking forward to starting college. My two other children had just started their new school year in 4th and 7th Grade.
We enjoyed a light-hearted and happy evening together.
The next morning the phone rang early. My default was oh no. A thud of dread. When you live in California and your relatives are in England, that ring at that hour will do that.
It was my mother-in-law calling from Los Angeles, panic high her voice.
‘Have you heard the news?’
‘Put CNN on, a plane’s crashed into the World Trade Centre.’
A what? Where? I’m not a morning person. Her words jumbled around my foggy brain.
It was a school morning, but with time to spare before rousing the children. I padded over to the living room, clicked the remote and turned on the TV.
Breaking news from New York flashed across the screen. A reporter was interviewing a firefighter, smoke and flames billowing in the distance. A plane had crashed into the North Tower. I barely had time to register this unimaginable disaster as what sounded like another plane in the background, the engine hum growing louder. It sounded low, too low. Something about it…something ominous. There, in full view on the screen, flying towards the South Tower.
My God, it’s going in…
One might be an accident. But two? Two is an attack.
My hands flew to my mouth. My audible gasp brought my children running. Their world, our world, forever changed. I sunk into the sofa, overcome by what next. And with wide-eyed horror we watched the unthinkable when one tower, then the other, collapsed.
The phone rang again. This time it was my mother calling to wish me a belated happy birthday, as arranged. It was afternoon in the UK, she had been out with a friend and hadn’t heard the news. I broke it to her.
Then I remembered; my brother worked for Virgin Airlines and was piloting a Boeing 747 from Gatwick in London to Orlando, Florida that day. Families with children heading excitedly to Disneyworld.
We figured he was probably half way there by then. Concern for his whereabouts and safety dominated our conversation.
We had no contact after that phone call for three days. Our phone lines and internet went down, I was cut off from them all. All I could do was hope and pray that my brother, his crew, and passengers were all safe.
When communication was restored, he called me and relayed his story.
He got the call from air traffic control not to enter US airspace under any circumstances. He was not told why, only that he should divert to Canada. He gleaned from London what had happened, and factoring in the amount of fuel they had left, made the immediate decision to turn the plane around and fly back to Gatwick.
Nobody knew what other attacks might be forthcoming. His primary concern was to get everyone safely back home. And that’s exactly what he did.
Turn off satellite communications on board and keep everyone calm, he instructed the crew. If passengers got wind of what was going on in New York, they might panic. Children cried and parents demanded an explanation, but a riot was averted,
Once back on British soil, he gave an announcement to his passengers. Relief and gratitude swept over them. Their holidays at Disneyworld would have to wait. It wasn’t important right now.
But that day took its toll on my brother. I saw a change in him, after 9/11.
I emigrated from the UK to the US in 1986. For many years, handwritten letters were my main form of communication with my family. There were no international calling plans, the internet, emails and face-time. Twenty years since 9/11 and my experience is meagre in comparison to the incalculable carnage and tragedy suffered by too many. Yet, those three days cut off from my family not having any news of my brother is something I’ll never forget.
It is always the not knowing that is the worst, I find.
The two decades I lived in California seem fleeting now. That birthday dinner was long ago, yet my children remember it clearly because of the day after. We all live in the UK now.
To say I am grateful spending my upcoming birthday with them is an understatement.
Sherri’s non-fiction, flash fiction and poetry are published in magazines, anthologies and online at her blog. As a young mum of three, she emigrated from the UK to California and stayed for twenty years. Today she lives in England’s West Country with her family and two beautiful black kitties. Her 2021 entry to Fish Publishing Short Memoir Prize was shortlisted and also received a special mention at Spread the Word Life Writing Prize. She is working hard to bring her debut memoir to publication.
Conflict is necessary when writing a story. Tension is the conflict’s little brother. While conflict might be more visible through a friend’s fight, a lover’s betrayal, or a tragic accident, it will keep the reader on edge from one scene to the next as they wonder how it will all come to an end.
If omitted, readers may decide to skip your novel entirely.
The principle of conflict is that it should rise and fall at uneven intervals. Escalation and resolution should occur so that conflict has motion. As a writer, you will want your characters to respond. For example, a woman leaving her husband can not happen without reason. Here, you begin to see how certain factors in story-building affect one another.
We have to consider the degree of conflict and how that will impact your characters.
Eventually, as writers, we try to make peace with the characters involved in the conflict. We try to think about their personality traits, their motivations, or their goals. We try to be in our characters’ shoes by considering what they will do. How would my characters respond, or does the conflict change them? The transition could be a bumpy one.
Similarly, when we conflict with others, we ought to learn to make a truce.
The above applies to our lives.
A conflict in our day-to-day lives helps us stay alert and, in some cases, grateful. If nothing ever went wrong in our lives, we would never have a chance to grow stronger. On the other hand, life, all rosy, would be so dull, aimless, and bland. A rise and fall at uneven intervals can keep us on guard and allow our intellect to make decisions when we are in a puddle. It’s also a test of our intelligence, which makes us different from any other living species.
Conflict is the vehicle for change in our society, our personal lives, and at work.
Martin Luther King, Jr., looked at conflict as a means of making positive social change. It is how we handle conflict that we need to consider.
According to the Thomas-Kilmann, Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI), used by human resource (HR) professionals worldwide, there are five major styles of conflict management—collaborating, compromising, avoiding, competing, and accommodating.
While working in collaboration with another peer at work, an individual could create concerns and needs. Although partnership could generate creative solutions, foster respect, trust, and build relationships. But it can also lead to competition to create a win-win solution.
Collaboration is far more powerful than competition. Your body and brain work best when you’re joyful and peaceful, not when you are pushed to the wall.
People who work as compromisers are willing to sacrifice some of their goals while persuading others to give up theirs. They are ready to walk the extra mile to help maintain the relationship. Although the compromise is not necessarily intended to make all parties happy, to split the difference, game-playing can result in an outcome that is less creative and ideal.
People who use this conflict style deliberately ignore or withdraw from it rather than face it when in such a situation. However, they hope the problem will go away if they lay low by not taking responsibility or being involved. But then avoidance can be destructive if the opposite party perceives that you don’t care enough to engage. The result could be a loss for both parties since the argument could result in angry or hostile outbursts by not dealing with the conflict.
People who compete come across as aggressive, confrontational, and can be intimidating. Having a competitive style is mainly to gain power while pressuring a change. However, this style could help in making difficult decisions and can harm relationships beyond repair.
People who adopt this style of conflict usually keep aside their own needs because they want to keep the peace. Accommodators are cooperative and keep their egos at bay. They wouldn’t mind losing and allowing the other person to win.
How we respond to someone challenging our ideas or questioning our views is an essential aspect of our personality that we would be wise to recognize. At work or within the family, how we engage with others can make the difference between a positive and mutually beneficial relationship or one that is fraught with distrust and frustration.
We might consider this mode as our instinctive reaction to conflict. Knowing our mode can help assess whether we are the right person to engage in a row.
My two cents
By first gaining self-awareness, engagement with others can be more thoughtful and considerate, which is critical in improving one’s work situation and achieving professional objectives.
Different situations demand different conflict approaches as long as we continue to heal ourselves with any process.
So, what’s your style of conflict?
This post comes from Rough Writer Ruchira Khanna
A Biochemist turned writer who gathers inspiration from the society where I write about issues that stalk the mind of the man via tales of fiction.
I blog at Abracabadra which has been featured as “Top Blog” for five years. Many of my write-ups have been published on LifeHack, HubPages to name a few.
I can be found at:
I write within a porch in the heart of the Keweenaw. It looks out over a bustling village street, an old railway line, a ball diamond. There’s a Veteran’s memorial down the lane, flags flapping, begonias blooming. One name listed there belongs to a relative I never met, though I knew his Grandpa, my great-uncle. That memorial connects me to half of my family, to mining immigrants, to this place. That’s the way it is around here.
It is in this porch I sit each day, beside a patchwork bird on a wooden pedestal and a tabby cat who lounges in the sun. It’s a feminine space. An old space. Once cold and dark, it has undergone a transformation in recent years. A transition. The walls and floor have been insulated, the thin window replaced, the door repaired. It’s been painted and papered, received fresh lighting, a sturdy boot box, and a line of aged-bronze coat hooks to hold outerwear. It has become a conglomeration of the passing times. Just as I am a conglomeration of ancestry.
I imagine this old porch was once like many Keweenaw porches. Or sheds. Or mudrooms. The walls were probably lined with wooly coats, peas of ice melting from their cuffs, scant puddles forming in rings below. I envision galoshes strewn about on its bare wood floor, rag rugs soaking up the slushy weep from their soles. Somewhere in its past lies the smell of damp dog. Of coal. Of firewood. Maybe even pasty or pannukakku. There have been times sitting out here I swear I can almost hear the voices of past residents coming from interior rooms—the Finnish or the Cornish or perhaps the French Canadian—chatting over morning coffee or afternoon tea. I imagine the clink of their cups. The slurp of liquid from their spoons. They speak with confidence, with pride, with identity. Unhindered, they raise their voices in their mother tongue. They laugh, sing, whisper. They are who they are and are licensed that freedom.
There are days I sit and think about that. I think about the freedom to speak the language of one’s choosing, and I act upon it. Though on most days I may be writing or editing from this porch, there’s at least one day a week reserved for the study of language—Anishinaabemowin, the language of the Ojibwe people, my maternal blood. I log in remotely to a makeshift classroom hours away. I don my headset, turn on my camera, and join a group of others like me, students of all ages hungry for the words of their ancestors.
It is in this porch once built by immigrants that I’ve come to understand the beauty of an Indigenous language. And the value. It is here, where European descendants have stomped their boots and hung their overcoats, that I have learned another side of me. Beyond the French Canadian that contributed to my father’s blood. Beyond the Cornish of his mother.
My journey began over a year ago, in stutters and stammers. I could hardly speak. I saw my face in a small square on the screen. Other faces, too. Strangers, all of them. All of us wondering who we were. Why we’d come. What had drawn us to that virtual classroom. “Aaniin, boozhoo,” I said, my voice timid, the words foreign. And that was the beginning.
These days I introduce myself in the language with greater ease, a rhythm gradually developing, though still far from adequate. Like a graying toddler, I pick up syllable by syllable, word by word, the elders my teachers. Each week I grow in the culture, learn history, hear stories. The elders tell jokes and tease one another. And we laugh. “We don’t want to make it too heavy,” they say.
Though each member of our class comes from different walks of life, from different locations across the country, many share a similar linguistic history: Our Anishinaabe grandparents didn’t pass down their language, because they feared for their children—and their children’s children. They feared they would be taken away, feared they would be punished, as that is how it was back then. And so our parents grew up hearing the language, but not speaking it. They grew up understanding some of what they heard, but not storing it away. And we, as their children, grew up without it.
So, that is why we gather.
I sit on this porch on a Thursday morning caressed by wisps of mashkodewashk, the scent of wiingashk in the air, nibi at my side. Sage, sweetgrass, and water ready me for the day’s teachings. We’re reading a story during this lesson, each slide on the screen a page of the storybook. I review what I see before I’m called on. To my surprise, I recognize the words, understand their meaning. There are tears in my eyes. A lump in my throat.
“Giinitam,” the elder says to me. Your turn. He wants me to read out loud what I see on the screen.
Before this day, I’ve never understood as many words grouped together. I’ve never passed a slide without relying on the English translation for clarification. I’m excited. In disbelief. “Before I begin,” I say, “I just want to tell you that I understood some of this before I read the translation. And that almost makes me cry.” My cheeks are warm. My heart glows.
“Nishin,” the elders say, nodding. “Nishin.” They are happy with my progress, proud of their student, grateful that Anishinaabemowin will not be forgotten from Aki, this Earth. I feel in this instant that somewhere in the distance my Ojibwe ancestors are smiling and nodding, too. En’, they are saying. Nishin, n’doozhisheninaan. Yes. Good, our grandchild.
It is Wednesday now, a writing day. Beyond my Keweenaw porch cars pass, children call, neighbors mow their lawns. My keyboard clacks amidst the delicate snore of the cat. I often grumble about the noise, but I’ve grown accustomed to it. I know, if I wait, there’ll come a lull in the din. The cars will quiet. The children will go home. The lawns will be tidy, and the cat will rouse herself and wander off in search of kibble. I’ll pause my typing in those moments. The click-clack of the keys will fall silent. And I’ll listen. I’ll listen for the sounds of those familiar voices—the voices of the Keweenaw immigrants. The miners and the railway workers and the lumbermen. The Finnish. The Cornish. The French-Canadian. But these days, if I listen close enough, I’ll hear another voice, too. One fresh to my ear, like a robin’s spring call. It rises from an inner space. Claims a place in the dialogue. Adds to the melody of my history. “En’,” I’ll say, for I know who it is. It is the voice of my other half. The voice of the Anishinaabeg. And I’ll smile.
Born amidst the copper mining ruins of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, T. Marie Bertineau is a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community of the L’Anse Reservation, migizi odoodeman. Her work has appeared online with Minnesota’s Carver County Arts Consortium; in Mino Miikana, a publication of the Native Justice Coalition and Waub Ajijaak Press; and in the annual journal U.P. Reader. Her debut memoir The Mason House (Lanternfish Press, 2020) was named a 2021 Michigan Notable Book by the Library of Michigan. Married and the mother of two, she makes her home in Michigan’s Keweenaw.
Anne Goodwin (UK) joins Charli Mills (US) at Carrot Ranch (imaginary place where real writers craft 99-word stories). Inspired Quill has recently published Anne Goodwin’s third novel, Matilda Windsor is Coming Home. She draws upon her experiences as a clinical psychologist in the 1990s when the UK dismantled its old asylums. The novel follows the story of a brother and sister separated decades earlier, and the young social worker who wants to contribute to a better world. Charli caught up with Anne in an interview complete with several readings.
Anne enjoys interacting with readers. In a previous newsletter, she asked, “Who were you in 1990?” You can leave us your answer in the comments below.
If you or anyone you know is in a book group, be sure to share Anne’s robust offer to book groups at her website.
Find your preferred bookseller link at Purchase Options.
The early years are crucial to child development and what happens in those years can be used to predict, to some extent, what will happen in that’s child’s future.
I had already intended sharing videos about early childhood development in this post, and still will. But when my sister told me about this Ted Talk by Molly Wright, a pretty amazing 7-year-old, I just knew I had to share it first. She does a great job of summing up the importance of the early years. I’m not going to summarise her talk for you as it’s only 7 ½ minutes long and I’m sure you will enjoy it more coming from Molly.
For me, the only thing she leaves out that I wish she had included is reading stories. Although it’s probably understood, I would like to have heard it mentioned.
Now back to my original plan of sharing two Ted Talk.
(Tip: I understand that watching talks can be time consuming. I find I can often follow them just as well, or better, when I watch them at increased speed. In case you don’t know, to do this is easy. Click on the Settings cogwheel, select Playback speed and choose the speed that suits you. I often try 1.75 first and adjust down if necessary.)
The first talk is Lessons from the longest study on human development by Helen Pearson.
In the video, Pearson reports on a scientific study conducted in Britain for a period of 70 years, collecting information about thousands of children. The study began in 1946 with a survey of mothers who gave birth in England, Scotland and Wales during one week — 14,000 babies. The study was repeated in 1958 and 1970, in the early 1990s and at the turn of the century. Over 70,000 children and five generations were involved. The scientists tracked the children every few years as they grew. They now have an enormous amount of data about a huge number of children and about which thousands of academic papers and books have been written.
The focus for Pearson in the video, is “about how to use science to do the best for our children.” She says the biggest message is “don’t be born into poverty or into disadvantage”. The study found that, if one was born into poverty and disadvantage, they were more likely to struggle throughout life, in school and at work, with physical and mental health and life expectancy. And, Pearson reports, the disadvantage begins early in life and continues into adulthood.
But not for everyone. Pearson says that not everyone born into disadvantage ends up in a difficult situation and that this study helps to explain why. Pearson says,
“In this study, children who had engaged, interested parents, ones who had ambition for their future, were more likely to escape from a difficult start. It seems that parents and what they do are really, really important, especially in the first few years of life.”
Doesn’t that sound very similar to what 7-year-old Molly Wright had to say?
The things Pearson lists as making a significant difference include:
- talking and listening to a child
- responding to them warmly
- teaching them their letters and numbers,
- taking them on trips and visits
- reading to them every day.
Pearson reinforces this by saying that “children whose parents were reading to them daily when they were five and then showing an interest in their education at the age of 10, were significantly less likely to be in poverty at the age of 30 than those whose parents weren’t doing those things.”
Another part of the study mentioned by Pearson looked at the connection between bedtime routines and behaviour. It was found that children with a regular bedtime routine were more likely to be better behaved than children whose patterns were irregular. Perhaps that’s not so surprising either. But what is pleasing, is that the study found that when children’s bedtimes became more regular and followed a routine, their behaviour improved. Add a book into the mix and it sounds like a recipe for success to me.
So, what is the message? Most of us know the benefits of all the things that both Molly Wright and Helen Pearson told us are important. Now the science confirms it too. And what I think is especially wonderful about Molly’s Wright’s video is that it is making a difference to new mums and through them, their children.
Molly’s talk was prepared as part of the Thrive by Five initiative of the Minderoo Foundation, a program which aims to increase access to early childhood education. It has been shown in maternity wards across Australia and beyond and has had close to 2 million views already. That’s a lot of lives that have been changed and which will impact positively upon our world in many and varied ways.
However, now for a slightly different point of view, I share this video by Yuko Munakata.
Munakata tells us that parents matter, but that the ways in which they matter is complex and difficult to predict. She says, “For anyone who has ever been a parent, stop blaming yourself, as if you are in control of your child’s path. You have influence, but you don’t have control. For anyone who has ever been a child, stop blaming your parents.”
This reminds me of one of my favourite quotes about parents and children. It comes from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.
“And he said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of to-morrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”
This brings me to a final recommendation of Munakata, with which I totally agree, that we should enjoy each precious moment we have with our children for their future is uncertain and not in our control, all we have is now.
How perfect — enjoy every precious moment with your precious children.
Until next time — Norah
Being dyslexic has its perks, but it also has its disadvantages. Take a look at the heading of this post again. How many writers would read it with horror? I know I would.
So why have I given this post that heading? Because I’m here to talk about being a writer who happens to be dyslexic and who’s in love with words.
Have you ever played the game ‘Hide & Seek?’
Words play Hide & Seek with me all the time. I can go days, sometimes weeks, writing and rereading a blog post or short story, and those words only come out of hiding when I’ve pushed the publish button. Even then, it’s not always me that spots those words. It’s somebody who has read my post and who kindly points out in an email or via the ‘Contact Hugh’ button on my blog that I’ve made a mistake. I get upset when that happens.
However, I’m not upset with the person who has contacted me but upset with the words that knowingly laugh back at me when highlighted to me.
When did it all start?
The horrors of being dyslexic started way back for me – during my school years, I heard these phases –
Hugh is a little stupid.
Hugh is slow when it comes to learning.
If Hugh wants to become a writer, he needs to try harder.
It would help us if you told Hugh he will never be a writer. He gets his words mixed up and writers don’t get their words mixed up.
Words seem to terrify Hugh.
Those were just some of the comments I heard my teachers telling my parents at the yearly school parents’ evening. Today, teachers know what the signs of dyslexia are, but some people still have trouble putting me being a writer and being dyslexic together.
But words have never terrified me. But they have (and still do) play tricks on me.
The tricks words play
Sometimes, I get so frustrated with words that it can bring my mood down and spoil the rest of my day. Why do I, therefore, write in the mornings? Because it’s when I seem to be at my most creative, that’s why. I fill my whole mornings with words, and every single one of them has the potential to bring my mood down. But it’s not the words playing tricks with me; it’s what my brain is telling my eyes.
Even the best software in the universe can’t always help. Have you been in a position when Grammarly (or another piece of writing software) highlights a mistake, yet you can’t work out what the problem is? Even though Grammarly tells me the problem, I often still can’t see why it’s a mistake. Surely I’m right, not a piece of software? That’s what happens when dyslexia jumps out of a box, pokes out its tongue, and laughs at you.
Are there any advantages of being dyslexic?
Yes. Did you know that F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Irving and Linda La Plante had dyslexia? So can I put myself amongst that famous group of writers and stand proud that I’ve written and published two short story collections, have a column at the Carrot Ranch, and have been running a blog for the past seven years where my passion for writing runs riot? Of course, I can.
But the best thing about being dyslexic is that I get repeatedly told that people with dyslexia have ‘special’ creative minds, which sometimes can spark something unusual. Something that makes the reader go, ‘WOW!’
Take, for example, Charli’s recent 99-word flash fiction challenge with the theme of ‘Meltdown.’ Are the comments on the piece I published in response to that challenge proof that dyslexic people do have something special when it comes to writing?
What I’d now want to tell my teachers
Because reading never comes easy to me, I have spent my life wrestling with words and trying to get them down on a page. I am not afraid of words or putting them together to create ideas, blog posts or fiction. Words do not terrify me. I never think “I can’t” when I try to write something. I know from experience that I can. So when I tell myself that words are not friendly, I immediately tell myself that I’m a good writer, who like all writers, continues to improve at their own pace. And ‘Practice makes perfect.’ Doesn’t it?
And it’s thanks to writing prompts like Charli’s 99-word flash fiction challenge that my writing continues to improve. Sometimes I surprise myself, but often not until the comments come in.
No, words and reading are not terrifying or unfriendly. And nor is being dyslexic a problem. No, the problem has always been the people who tell you it’s a problem.
Have you ever struggled with words? Tell me about your ‘word problem’ experiences and share with us how you got over them.
If you missed my previous posts on Diversity With A Twist, here they are.
Are the stories we tell based on our previous lives? Continue reading
Copyright © 2021 Hugh W. Roberts – All rights reserved.
Hugh W. Roberts lives in Swansea, South Wales, in the United Kingdom.
Hugh gets his inspiration for writing from various avenues including writing prompts, photos, eavesdropping and while out walking his dogs, Although he was born in Wales, he has lived around various parts of the United Kingdom, including London where he lived and worked for 27 years.
Hugh suffers from a mild form of dyslexia but, after discovering blogging, decided not to allow the condition to stop his passion for writing. Since creating his blog ‘Hugh’s Views & News’ in February 2014, he has built up a strong following and now writes every day. Always keen to promote other bloggers, authors and writers, Hugh enjoys the interaction blogging brings and has built up a group of online friends.
His short stories have become well known for the unexpected twists they contain. One of the best compliments a reader can give Hugh is “I never saw that ending coming.”
Having published his first book of short stories, Glimpses, in December 2016, his second collection of short stories, More Glimpses, was released in March 2019.
A keen photographer, he also enjoys cycling, walking, reading, watching television, and enjoys relaxing with a glass of red wine and sweet popcorn.
Hugh shares his life with John, his civil-partner, and Toby and Austin, their Cardigan Welsh Corgis.
The founder of my local veterans’ writing group, Lt. Col. Timothy Hansen, retired Army, invited Maj. Gen. Mari K. Eder, retired Army, to speak to the Rochester Veterans Writing Group during our ZOOM meeting on July 10. What an honor and privilege it was to share a conversation with her.
Tim read the following bio to introduce the General:
I had the privilege to meet her when she was the Deputy Chief of Army Public Affairs back in 2007. She has served in key public affairs positions in the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, theater media relations for NATO in Kosovo, and at the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
Maj. Gen. Eder published her first major work on communication, Leading the Narrative: The Case for Strategic Communication in 2011 and followed with American Cyberspace in 2020. Her articles in the communication series, Information Apocalypse, have been used from Appalachian State to the University of Tokyo. She has written several papers on leadership, military ethics, and strategic communications. She has even published two children’s books.
Her forthcoming book, The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line: The Untold Stories of the Women Who Changed the Course of World War II, covers the lives of 15 exceptional women who served or supported WWII while purposely staying out of the limelight. This historical work is a break from her case studies and technical writing on communications.
Tim had told us she would give a 45-minute talk on her career and publications, then allow time for questions. To our surprise, she only talked about her new book due out in hardcover and Kindle at the beginning of August (pictured above) then asked us, as writers, what we wanted to talk about. We weren’t quite prepared.
In answer to our questions, she explained when she submitted the proposal, as you have to for a non-fiction book, the response was a “ho-hum, not another war book.” But, when the publisher looked at the content, they got excited and asked her to have it ready in two months. General Eder explained it was at the peak of the pandemic lockdown, so she was sequestered at home with her three dogs and was happy to have a project. The frustrating part was trying to do research with libraries closed and no one answering phones. She said she wrote the chapters she liked or could easily collect facts for first, then worked on the others. She also shared that she would read poetry to take herself out of the project when she needed a break and then returned to it with new and focused eyes.
Changing gears, we talked about reading for personal pleasure. She suggested making it a practice to delve deeper, search for what a piece has to offer that you can learn from, and thus change you as a person, even if only in a small way.
Before we finished the ZOOM call, we agreed we would reconvene after having had a chance to read The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line.
While on vacation in Richmond, Virginia, over the Fourth of July weekend, I enjoyed a tour of the historic St. John’s Church (https://www.historicstjohnschurch.org/) where I bought the book Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons, The story of Phillis Wheatly, by Ann Rinaldi. It’s a historical fiction novel about how the first book of poetry by an African-American woman came to be published. I eagerly turned page after page to experience Phillis’s extraordinary life while still being a slave.
Ann Rinaldi has brought history alive for me by giving historical figures personalities and describing what might have been their day-to-day experiences. She is careful to note what is factual and what is not. I have to admit my weakness for reading YA books. They are often quick, easy reads that leave me thinking about the characters for many days.
I am looking forward to reading more of her novels, though not all war-related, which will give me a clearer picture of events I have heard about since my early school days.
It’s also interesting to become acquainted with the people who experienced a war on the other side of the earth. I have just finished reading A Ghost and His Gold by Roberta Eaton Cheadle, a regular contributor at Carrot Ranch. This historical fiction novel is about the Second Anglo Boer War in South Africa, where Robbie resides. She has come up with a unique way to tell the story by using ghosts as three of her key characters. Roberta masterfully shares the history of the war by having her main character Michelle unravel how the three ghosts were connected in the past, why they are haunting her home, and why they have been unable to move on to the afterlife.
I developed the same empathy for the people I had the privilege of getting to know in these books as I have with the veterans in my local writing group. War is war, no matter where it takes place or for what reason. Humans, animals, and the terrain suffer from the event, and it changes lives in diverse ways.
Do you have any books on the subject of war that you would recommend or futher advanced your understanding of a past event? Feel free to share in the comments section.
Sue Spitulnik is an ex-Air Force wife who stays connected to the military/veteran community through her membership in the Rochester (NY) Veterans Writing Group. The group has recently published an anthology of their military experiences, United in Service, United in Sacrifice, available on Amazon. If you would like to contact her directly you can do so at her blog, susansleggs.com