Wearing My Misspellings

Usually I wear my misspellings like a badge of honor, a stamp of unequivocal uniqueness, a source of pride but recently I have been feeling down on myself. Inexplicably, astonishingly, and astoundingly I have become -- who would have thought it possible -- a worse speller this year than I can recall being in my entire adult life. The other day I somehow, someway misspelled "destination" while teaching my computer class. It being a computer class my misspelling was of course projected with frightening clarity and sharpness onto the wall in front of me for the entire class to see. It was another in a long stream of misspellings -- of mental blanks -- which perhaps hit me harder than it should have. But nevertheless it was a crushing blow, another box ticked, another fail in my ever accumulating pile and made worse given that recently I have found myself standing at the head of my classroom in mid-sentence when suddenly my mind empties. A complete and utter wipe. Turn back the clock, reset, reboot, press the power button and enter your password please.

Or don't. Go back to the PC store and have them take a look because something sure ain't right.

I look back at my students and think: What am I doing? What was I saying? And they see it, and I know it.

The other day standing in my kitchen -- pen in hand writing on a bright blue index card with my trusty purple marker, I wrote a new favorite mantra: Everyone is the perfect height for hugging. An Anya Kramer original. Only I spelled height H-I-G-H-T. I knew it was wrong the moment I printed the 'I.' I knew it before the "H" but I couldn't stop myself -- couldn't place what was wrong, why it was wrong. It was just wrong. I knew it even before I started writing. A wire crossed, a fuse blown, a light bulb burst. Something somewhere at some point was off.

The blanks, like the misspellings are happening more frequently. It is somehow different from when I was the student called upon by the teacher years ago -- an event I looked upon with utter trepidation. At eight I did not know the word for it like I did at eighteen but I knew the feeling: isolation. Called out, called upon, called to speak I could not. Words eluded me. Often the thought was there but I did not -- could not -- voice it.

Interestingly, I think my mental lapses have actually endeared me to my students. What they believe about me I cannot say but their way of interacting with me has changed. They speak more kindly, more thoughtfully, and often offer more engaged greetings and encouragement. They pay attention and ask questions. I am, I think, humanized and this means a lot to them because they are a population that has been largely dehumanized. I think in my lapses they come to see more than my appearance -- a young white women of means more than their own. They see more than an image. They see a person.

* * *

I was browsing The New York Times homepage the other day and in the upper left hand corner I saw "Defining My Dyslexia," an op-ed piece written by Blake Charlton. It was a beautiful article with a story not unlike my own that reminded me to see the beauty in a word misspelled and to encourage others to do the same.

I like crafting sentences like others like crafting music. I hear the sounds even when I do not see the words. I have the image even when the picture is not clear. The words are like the melody that I fit together to create a harmonious and extraordinary sound. I scan dictionaries for words I do not know, flip through books with the singular intention of finding the unknown and making it the known. I look for the obscure and the weird and the magical in everything I read and everything I see. I will, however, despite my love of writing, reading, and words, never win a spelling bee, at least not of the traditional sort.

I will never understand topical maps, or be able to read cursive, or recall dates, or names, or nifty facts, or read much faster than I could in the eighth grade but I can pull forth from my mental cabinets a color image of my high school chemistry classroom with every chair, desk, beaker, sink, and bookshelf accounted for. I can recall -- as if video recorded paths I walk, drive or bike. I can tell you every turn and without fail -- like that handy Google Maps feature, reverse the directions and return to my starting point. I can find the car in a seven level parking garage. I can make computers, TVs, and various other gadgets and gizmos do things for me even when they don't want to. I can duplicate an intricate knot just by looking at a picture. I can untangle Christmas lights, kick butt at memory (the card game), kill it at Sudoku, and get that pesky pencil mark from start to finish on a printed maze.

I can solve algebraic equations, decipher philosophical texts, and unpack scientific jargon. I can find connection between things that are seemingly unrelated and see clearly what is not written on the page -- the story that is not in the details but of the details.

I can do as many things -- if not more things -- than I cannot do.

So back to that moment in the classroom -- that word projected on the wall. Why does it bother me?

It is a moment where I am vulnerable. My armor is thinner here. I love the part of myself that cannot spell. I love that I spell so badly that spell-check cannot correct me and I have to spend minutes trying and retrying to write a word so I can get it close enough to accurate that spell-check will decide to indulge me. But this is a sore spot for me because although I love this part of myself many people do not and they have willingly and unrepentantly shared their distaste and their judgment with me. They have embarrassed me rather than embraced me, berated me rather than laughed with me.

Halting in my speech, people have asked me to hurry up. They have rushed me rather than waited for me -- wait for me as I have been waiting for them; waiting for them to see; waiting for them to look. Always waiting. Waiting so long that I don't even really know what I am waiting for anymore. But still waiting. Hoping. And doing nothing more -- no more -- than being myself and praying that makes all the difference, that it makes some difference, that it creates a splash and a ripple, that it means something to someone more than myself.

So here I am hoping and thinking and being and doing and realizing that in the end that is enough. Enough for now, enough for later, all I can really do.