I never read a book.
From The Cat in the Hat in preschool to the golden years of middle school and Fahrenheit 451, my memories in the classroom primarily consist of giggling, smirking and interrupting.
High school for me wasn’t about wearing the coolest clothes or being a great athlete, it was about Mr. Pattrus’ junior year literature class: Shakespeare vs. Edgar Allen Poe vs. Colleen Conway. My daily mantra with jaw clenching, heart thumping, chest collapsing, legs shaking, sweat pouring and tears dripping was, “Please don’t call on me to read aloud. Please don’t call on me to read aloud; please don’t call on me to read aloud.”
It wasn’t because I couldn’t read. It was because I couldn’t read the way my teachers wanted me to: word for word, correcting every syllable along the way.
I made my way all through high school never having read Romeo or Juliet, the works of Edgar Allan Poe or any other book for that matter. Twelve grades down four to go.
Bradley University, freshman year, I found myself in speech class. The first assignment was to write and read a speech. The speech was instructional, “How to Make Jell-O.”
When it was my turn, I got up, handed a copy of the speech to the professor and started to read and before I knew it the letters jumbled before my eyes. The “2 2/3rds cups of boiling water” became “23 coups of bowling water.” My jaw clenched, my heart pounded, my chest collapsed, my legs shook, but phew, no tears. I finished, barely. I sat down and the tears came, along with the grade: “F.”
The following week the professor decided to allow the class to redo the assignment.
“What?” I thought to myself, “Get up in front of the class and experience this whole mess all over again?” I wanted to scream, “I’ll take the F! Just give me the F!”
But as I looked around the room I saw all the other students with smiles on their faces and expressions of relief. “What the ‘fish?’ We all got bad grades? Surely, these kids could read out loud?” The voice said, “Who gives a shit, take the F! You’re not getting up there again!”
But I had to; I had to get up there and do it all over again. This is college and it is not for wimps. I told myself, “You got this far faking it you can do it again.” The professor gave us a week.
In that one week, I would love to say that I taught myself how to get up in front of the class and read. I would love to tell you that I practiced all hours of the night reading and reciting the speech in front of the mirror. I would love to say that I invited friends over to my dorm room in the hope that they would give me tips on how to make it better.
But that is not how my story goes.
None of that happened. I spent the next week memorizing every word on that page. Word for word, just as it was written on the paper I handed into the professor one week before. “2 and 2/3rd CUPS OF boiling water.” I repeated over and over again.
When the day came to re-present the speech, despite that I knew I had it memorized, I still felt the fears of the past 15 years of my life crawling up my spine. Will they remember what happened last time? Will they all stare at me? Will they snicker to each other? Will they roll their eyes? I started to breathe heavier and heavier. But just before it was my turn, I got this random idea or perhaps was struck by a spark of divine intervention? I decided to take out my contacts. If I didn’t have my contacts in, then I couldn’t see them and their snickers. I took “see no evil” straight to heart.
I approached the front of the room, paper in hand, blind as a bat and I gave my speech on “How to Make Jell-O.” I presented it word for word with complete articulation, no snickers and no rolling eyes. No sweat, no jumbled words, no hyperventilation. I nailed it. I received an A.
“Yippee! Great! You go girl!” you say? I say, “No.” I was a fake. I rigged the system. I cheated.
Or did I?
Did I cheat, or did I simply begin the process of finding a better way for me to get things done? Perhaps, beyond simply finding a better way for me to read and present in public, I actually stumbled upon a secret path for me to skip happily through the rest of my life?
Looking back now to that day in September 1984, I think this is exactly what my 19 year-old, first time away from home, college wanna-be sorority girl self accomplished.
For the first time, I let my intuition take over. It told me you have tried and tried and tried all your life this way; why not try it another way? Why not see where this road takes you? And I did. And on that day I learned to let internal compassion, internal love and a deep desire from within guide me. Oddly enough, I graduated in four years with a degree in Communications.
Today I am still that girl who stares at the pages with words that say “melons” rather then “lemons.” But I also teach. God, do I teach!
I get up in front of students, many of whom despite being all grown up, are the same type of kids I was afraid to read in front of for all those years. Sometimes I say raise your right arm when I mean left, and sometimes I say look to the left when I mean right. Occasionally, I still see a student in the room who rolls her eyes when I get it wrong and all those feeling come rushing back, but I keep going.
I even call myself the Dyslexic Yoga teacher. Not because it’s funny (although it gets laughs), but because it’s true and I’ve accepted it. I recently named the walls of my yoga studio Grace, Love and Peace. Initially it was just one more way I had chosen to make my dyslexic life easier; knowing right, left, front and back of the studio. But it has now become a constant reminder that as I teach from that place of a little girl who read jumbled words that I must continue to treat myself with peace and love and grace.