Archives for posts with tag: writing

As I’ve mentioned previously, my husband and I both love to write. And as luck would have it, we met in a college English Composition class. I read his short stories. He read my poetry. We talked about books. I remember guessing that he was an English major, only to be greatly surprised that he was completing a computer science degree and considering dropping the class due to his heavy course load.

Soon after our daughter was born, it was clear that she was verbally precocious. The day she turned 8 months old, it was finally clear that the “da da” she’d been babbling consistently for several days was, “Dada”. I remember the first time she said something intentionally funny. She pointed at me and said, “Baby” and then to herself and said, “Mimi”, her name for me at the times. Then she giggled like crazy and repeated the joke over and over. She was less than 10 months old at the time.

As she grew older, she regaled us with thoughts and questions far beyond her years. She “cracked the code” of reading rather early, reading her name through sight word recognition just before her second birthday. She went on to become a voracious reader.

So you would not blame us for expecting that a girl with such facility with language and so many interesting things to say would love to write. But she didn’t. I remember meeting with her 6th grade honor’s English/social studies teacher for conferences. She showed us a worksheet on which students were to answer short questions about Greek civilizations. Our daughter had originally started all of her answers to the “why” questions with “Because”. When her teacher told her not to start her answers with the word, “Because”, she just crossed out the word and left sentence fragments.

Even in high school, my daughter with an incredibly high verbal IQ would write as little as possible and use non-specific vocabulary or worse, non-words like “kinda” and “sorta”. Then there was her habit of not following the writing instructions. This was at times, unintentional and at other times, intentional. The latter writings had a definite voice and tone and it’s name was “smart ass”. Essays for final exams would start out as, “I know that this is not what you want me to write but…”

Every once in awhile, she would write something brilliant. Earlier in the school year she remarked to me, “Mom, I write two ways, really good and really bad.” I kept my response to a minimum but was encouraged to hear that there was perhaps some self-awareness in the works.

My daughter tested into a college program that allows her to take college courses to finish up high school. And she also gets to keep the college credit! This means that she takes fewer courses as one quarter at the college is worth a full year of a high school class. Winter quarter started last month. When she told John and I that she was registered for TWO English classes (creative writing and English comp) as well as advanced algebra (math is her strongest subject, along with music), our hearts sank. Getting through one semester of high school English has always been arduous for her. And she accepts no help from us on writing; this is not new. It has been the case for as far back as I can recall.

Lo and behold, our daughter has met other students in college, who like to write. They take the creative writing class together and workshop each others’ work. Her friends not only tell her when they like or dislike her ideas, they tell her when she needs to follow the professor’s instructions! (Clouds part. Angels sing.) She works on her writing for hours a day. She says, “I didn’t realize I like writing so much.”

She has actually even started letting my husband and I read her papers. They are exceptionally good with precise and vivid vocabulary, thematic depth, and particularly good dialog. We are delighted. A couple of weeks ago, her professor handed back a paper to her personally and told her, “This is excellent. You are one of only two students who earned a 4.0 on this assignment.” My daughter, a 16 year old in a college class, earned the highest possible grade on a WRITING assignment. She was thrilled.

She still doesn’t want corrective feedback on her writing but I don’t offer any, anyway. She is learning that writing is a process of planning, revising, rewriting, re-planning, etc. She asks, “Did you like it? Are you proud of me?”

Yes, I like it very much. I am so very proud of you. I am so happy that you have discovered what we’ve long known. You’ve got things to say.

As you know, I frequently write about my husband and our marriage in this blog. John reads all of my posts and I am very grateful to him for supporting the level of personal information I share about our lives. He’s never expressed hurt or anger with anything with anything I’ve written. He did disagree with something I wrote about myself, namely when I referred to myself as a “drama queen”. John told me that I was an “anti-drama queen” and that this is actually somewhat annoying to him at times. Although I was happy to hear that my husband views me as having good emotion management skills, I was kind of shocked.  I was so shocked that I actually asked him to tell me what he thought a “drama queen” was just to make sure we talking about the same thing. And we were talking about the same thing except when I gave him the example of losing my cool when I come home to a sink full of dishes that he was supposed to do days earlier, he said this was “nagging” rather than being a “drama queen”. Okay, I can work with that. So I’m not exactly Spock. I’m a Spock who also nags on occasion.

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I read a number of memoirs of other women who have had it. The most helpful of them was one that was written by a woman and her husband, both of whom are professional authors. It was clear that they had a loving marriage. It was also clear that cancer had thrown their lives upside down. Their stories were told in tandem with each set of chapters written about the same time period but from their different perspectives.

Yesterday I remembered that book. I asked John if he would write a guest post for my blog. We discussed a few ideas and he indicated that he was interested and that he wanted to think about what to write. I think he will do it and I’m pretty excited about it. My husband and I met in a writing class at the University of Washington. We both love to write. When I first met him, I thought he was an English major and was surprised that he was getting a computer science degree. Both he and I took a number of creative writing classes in college, though not the same ones. John’s mother is a published poet who founded a writing conference in eastern Washington state that ran for several years. John still writes poetry and occasionally gives readings at local coffee shops. A few years ago, he and his friend, Rex had a booth at Artopia, one of the Seattle neighborhood arts festival. I thought the idea of a poetry booth was a little crazy given the venue and especially since they were planning to write lines of their poetry ON PEOPLE.  They had tons of multi-colored markers. Rex had also made stencils of lines from some of his poems and was using paint to apply those. Their booth was actually pretty popular. I had totally forgotten about how this fit nicely into the tattoo scene, which is very big in Seattle. And then at one point, the line for face-painting really long and a number of moms successfully convinced them to draw butterflies, flowers, and dolphins on kids’ cheeks. And yes, I had my husband write on me. John wrote a line from a love poem he’d written for me on my upper arm. It was a fun day.

I am hoping that he will write something soon and I don’t have to Spock nag him too much. 😉

Stay tuned.

P.S. For those of you keeping score at home, his work situation has improved somewhat and more importantly, he is taking off both Thanksgiving and Christmas weeks!

Several years ago, I read John Robison’s autobiography, Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s. Asperger’s is an autism spectrum disorder and without going into great detail, one of the main difficulties for individuals with this pattern of brain development is to make positive social connections with others. People with Asperger’s also typically have narrow interests, which can contribute to unusually well developed specific abilities. It is an excellent book and I love his story of transformation. John Robison is a successful businessman. Although he never graduated from high school, in the 70’s, he worked for the heavy metal band, KISS, designing their fire breathing and rocket launching guitars. He also worked designing electronic toys for Milton Bradley.

Robison was not diagnosed with Asperger’s until 16 years ago at age 40. As he got older, he gradually improved his abilities to form meaningful social connections, to make eye contact, to demonstrate empathy and perspective taking, and to have a more integrated flow of emotional, behavioral, and cognitive functioning. He remarried and found lasting love. But there were trade-offs to his transformation. Robison could no longer understand the technical designs he had previously made. Robison’s brain was able to function less narrowly which meant that he could no longer focus such a large proportion of his mental energy on his complex pyrotechnic designs. If memory serves, I believe he was happy with the trade off.

As I have written in the past, I have experienced changes in my cognition since my cancer diagnosis. Although overall, things have improved, I still have concentration difficulties and difficulties integrating information and making simple conclusions. It doesn’t happen all of the time but every so often I find myself thinking, “D’uh!” The most persistent difficulties have been with my writing mechanics. It’s not like I never made errors before because I did. But I make so many more spelling, grammatical, syntax, and punctuation errors than I used to. Sometimes I think of a word and write down something else entirely. That is a new problem. I don’t remember doing that before. It is a language processing problem and I don’t like it at all.

My writing errors have caused me variable amounts of frustration and embarrassment. However, it has not gotten in the way of my posting in my blog, anyway. The objective part of me figures that I am not a professional writer and should not hold myself to that standard. Additionally, I think I have interesting things to write and a number of people seem to like to read my blog. Finally, carefully combing through my writing for errors frankly requires more brain energy than I can spare right now. My job requires intent concentration and I just don’t have much left by the time I write my posts. Any that’s leftover really needs to go to having conversations with my family, which was something that was hard for awhile from a concentration perspective. I still have trouble following the train of thought for my husband and daughter at times. Neither of them consistently use topic sentences in their oral language. My husband often leaves the point of what he is saying until the end of a several minute explanation. In my current mind space, especially after a work day, I feel that my brain may explode. I need clues to organize what he is saying. Is it good news or bad news? Is he telling me about the status of a work project (so hard for me to follow as I am not an engineer) because he just wants to share about what he is doing or because he is going to tell me that he has to work late tonight? I feel frustrated with my brain for not being there for him as much as I’d like to be. I also sometimes get frustrated with his communication style.

I saw the book, Look Me in the Eye on my coffee table yesterday. I’d taken it off of the bookshelf to give it to one of John’s coworkers, who used to design pyrotechnics for Billy Idol. I figured he’d get a kick out of reading it. But he either forgot to bring it with him or didn’t want it because it was still on the coffee table after he left our house. When I looked at the book I remembered John Robison’s trade off and saw a parallel in my own life.

I may never get back my consistent attention to detail or all of those thinking skills on which I used to be able to rely. But I have much less anxiety and a lot more meaning in my life. I have a more interesting life. I have a lot more fun. I’d say that this trade has worked in my favor.

George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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