You know, it feels very strange for me to use the term writing in relationship to this blog, or anything else I do online. There are a couple of reasons for this, one is technological, the other rather personal. I’d like to share both of them with you.
The personal reason goes back to when I was a little kid. My handwriting was always terrible, and I was commonly told that I should be a doctor. Today I like to tell people that they don’t want me to hand write things because if I do, they’ll need a hieroglyphics expert to decipher what I wrote. In any case, it turned out that the problem went beyond poor handwriting. When I was in second grade, I was diagnosed with a learning disability called dysgraphia which means literally “not write.”
A slightly expanded definition, which I really like comes from Wiktionary: “A language disorder that affects a person’s mechanical ability to write.” I don’t think the explanation goes far enough though. Definitions like that, while useful are not very helpful in explaining the experience of having this type of “disorder.” See, I never knew any other way, I can’t feel what it’s like for someone else to write. I only know my own experience. This is a distinction which I certainly didn’t understand as a second grader.
Of course, that is not to say that my parents, some amazing teachers and a few experts didn’t go out of their way to try and explain. I was an intelligent and inquisitive child who wanted to know how everything worked. I think my own experience always got in my way, because whatever I was told was filtered through my own experience. This is just part of how we humans process information, but it wasn’t something I understood then.
What I knew at that time was that I hated to write, and I didn’t want to do it. That was my truth, my experience. I knew I had this “dysgraphia thing” but it wasn’t that important in my day-to-day thought. What I did think about was that I didn’t want to write, and often, I would make arrangements with my teachers to do incredibly elaborate projects or presentations rather than relatively simple writing assignments. But of course, this was fine by me — I love to talk, I love to put on shows and to make things — that never seemed like work.
It was around the same time as I was diagnosed, that we got our first computer at home. An Apple IIc, state-of-the-art at the time. I took to the computer like the proverbial fish to water, amazing my parents as I sat at the computer for hours transfixed by learning BASIC programming. I also learned, though I don’t think it was consciously, that typing was a whole lot easier for me than writing. It makes sense, the physical act of typing a character is much simpler than the act of writing the same character. My mother insisted that I learned to touch type at a young age. I hated doing it, but it has served me extremely well. However, typing was still only a partial solution. Looking back on it I think it was still much more difficult for me to produce a typed document than for most of my peers to produce a document which was either typed or handwritten.
It wasn’t really until I was in high school, that I looked inside to think about and talk about the experience of my disability. Doing that was not my idea, it was at the request of my high school special ed teacher Denise Williams. Denise though that it was important that each student’s IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) have a statement from the student about how they viewed their needs, and what kind of help would be the most useful.
I dreaded having to write (type) this statement, as I did all writing assignments. I still remember vividly, sitting at the Mac SE in the resource room wondering what I was going to say. Then something happened, I’m not sure how, but it started to flow as I thought about it. I had clarity about what I wanted to say, and I started to type, I don’t have the document anymore (or if I do I certainly don’t know where,) but I remember the explanation that came to me so clearly. I still think it’s the best way I’ve ever come up with to describe this.
What I wrote, went something like this: when I need to write (or type), it takes an extraordinary amount of energy. I don’t know how to explain how much energy, since I don’t have any way to measure it. The only way I can describe it is like this: imagine that getting ideas from your brain to your hand to be written was like pushing them through a pipe. For most people, the pipe is the whole size of their arm, for me it feels more like a soda straw. Every time I write, I’m trying to jam these ideas, which are way too big, through this little tiny pipe to get them to come out my hand.
So I guess it’s not surprising, that I really grew to hate writing. I would work very hard to avoid it. I eventually realized that when I was doing an assignment in written form (either handwritten or typed) I would unconsciously censor myself, reducing my answers to the absolute minimum my unconscious thought I could get away with. Of course, what my unconscious thought was enough rarely pleased my teachers. The thing that’s important to understand here, is that I didn’t even realize that I was doing it. I only realized it when I looked at the difference between what happened when I spoke and what happened when I typed.
Fast forward many years. I guess it’s not a surprise that although the idea had been somewhat attractive, and I felt I had things to say, I had never had a blog. rather, I should say, I had never had a successful blog. I did start one years ago on LiveJournal, and then again on some other blogging service, I never posted anything on either of them.
So then, what am I doing writing this extremely long blog post about why I always hated writing?
That’s what brings me to the second reason that I feel funny calling this writing. My hands have barely touched the keyboard or mouse in the creation of this post. For the last few months, I’ve been using software called MacSpeech Dictate. It takes what I say, and translates it into written text. I’ve tried dictation software before, and though in one sense I had been impressed that it worked at all, it never worked well enough for me to use it for anything.
This time, it’s different. This software works incredibly well. That’s not to say that it’s accuracy is perfect, or that there haven’t been a few times that I wanted to throw the computer out the window. Overall though, it’s amazing. It really works! Until I started writing this post, I hadn’t really realized how freeing this software has been for me.
So it’s still kind of strange for me to think of “writing,” or rather dictating, producing written documents — as something I could enjoy, but I really am enjoying being able to share things with all of you.
I look forward to your comments and questions, and please, if you’re an educator who feels that this would be useful to share with a colleague or student, please do. And if you feel that other people would enjoy reading this, please use the links below to post it to Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Stumbl or other social media of your choice.