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‘Do You Visualize Words?’
The Mother of a Learning Reader Wonders: 3/24/22
© 2022 James LaFond
“Do you visualize words when you write? Listening to an audio book about dyslexia. Never expected to face this and be so traumatized by it. When you want a specific word, do you see it in your mind? We are doing exercises for my daughter to visualize words for reading and spelling.”
-School Mom, by text, to Flip the Hero Phone
I never recall visualizing a word, in fact, never considered trying it.
Now that you ask that question and I think bout it, I can only visualize one word, BECAUSE, in all capital letters with letters 4 and 5 overlapping and in undetermined order.
I have a problem ever knowing which of two vowels that are next to each other comes first. I hate French words. For instance, having written some 240 books, I still do not know which vowel comes first in “their.” I refuse to even try and memorize it, because I can’t, so I spell it in rotation. Yes, I know there is a rule that Miss Strubble [1] and my English tutor tried to teach me which I have never been able to remember. The next time I write the hated word I’ll spell it “thier” and the machine won’t let me keep that spelling unless I neglect to hit the space bar like I just did. You would think, that after being corrected tens of thousands of times I would have memorized the vowel order.
“Because” is a word that made me cry trying to spell it in third grade. It is the only word that I can pull up as a picture in my mind other than “well,” which is starting to pop up as I write this. “Wel” only has one L in my picture window, and “because” has the 4th and 5th letters mixed up into some kind of Achaean double letter.
I do not know if I am dyslexic or even what dyslexic is. I generally do not believe in academic or medical conditions. Perhaps I possess the blood memory of an Anglo-Saxon peasant conquered by French-speaking Normans and simply inherited a hatred for double vowels?
The only mechanic I recall from special ed reading class was adventure, the fact that the Sea Hunt stories were so cool and I wanted to be like the square-headed pearl diver with the knife. I have no idea how I learned to read.
I do recall a touching story from Wolfe’s Soldier of the Mist, in which brain-damaged Latro is taught a memory exercise by a character who I think might have been Pindar, the Poet of Thebes. This was an attempt to restore his lost memory of each passing day, an attempt to build a memory ladder within his mind in the form of a temple inhabited by various images.
I visualize actions as I write them. These are unplotted. I do not plot action scenes. I have been beaten up hundreds of times. I think that in stick fights, boxing bouts and machete duels I am at 911 combats, with 100 duels, 220 stick fights and 14 of 21 fist fights not ending in victory. When writing action I simply put myself in a position equipped as the protagonist and have a randomized tantric fight emerge out of the writing trance. I write fights while sitting and day dreaming.
Conversations I write, usually, while walking and working. Though I do write some conversations while sitting in a moving vehicle. These are not conversations. I envision a monologue of thought. It will be made into a conversation in the text, by writing the monologue until there is a pause or until I think another character would interrupt the speaker. Then the monologue continues to be broken in the above way.
The thing that seems surreal to me, is that I do not ever imagine sounds. The monologues are always silent, thoughts marching across the mind, wandering within The World, wondering at the unknown, or toiling over or under the known. They make no sound, have no letters, and are always looking to make contact with their unknowable betters.
I feel terrible that I can’t help you and terribly retarded as well.
I was unable to read until age 9 or 10—I am not sure. But by age 11, I was reading at Junior in College level according to a reading comprehension test administered in 6th Grade.
I never learned how to write by hand or to print in both cases. I can only print in capitals. In 1987, using a Brother single-line word-processing typewriter, at age 24, I wrote my first sentences and paragraphs that could explain something. I don’t know how to type and use my left index finger and my right index finger and middle finger to peck the keys. Between 1988 and 1992, at 29, I wrote Tribes, a science fantasy source book that I have used as the background for the short novels Supplicant’s Song and Confessor.
My writing level at age 24 was still at 4th grade level, but with an odd post-graduate vocabulary.
So, to answer this question, I randomize action via an action selection tree broken by actions and reactions.
I am unable to imagine a correctly spelled or complete word, with mental attempts to envision the second L in “well” and the middle vowels in “because,” causing me headache and fatigue.
Words, in my mind, are thoughts that whisper like ghosts might if they had no voices. When I try to hear the sounds of these words, I cannot. Of interest, perhaps, is my inability to pronounce many words the way they should be. Friends and family are forever correcting my use of a word and I choose not to speak many words I know for fear of mis-pronouncing them. I have been told that I pronounce “pronunciation” incorrectly. I in fact pronounce it different ways, groping for the shape of the sound in my pained retard brain, not able to remember which form has brought the most ridicule. One of the reasons I treasure writing is because I could never tell a story to most people without them feeling the need to correct my spoken words, at which point I loose all desire to continue.
Might this be due to the fact that after age 10, I learned words as ideas from books spoken by authors that were almost exclusively dead? I recall no teacher’s words from the front of the classroom. I never had a professor. When I read a word, it comes as an idea, not as a sound or collection of sounds. When I think of the word it comes as soundless thought with no associated visual shape.
I am, when thinking in words, haunted [just spelled this word three ways] by a teacher walking besides me, a silent speaker who, is in partial profile and bearded to my right or left, usually left, and who vanishes when I turn in my mind to look at him. Walking, I make no footfalls and have no form, do not see my feet or hands as I walk besides the obliquely silent teacher.
I wish I knew him, because he knows me, it seems, and I would like to contribute something, but am mute.
I have only ever thought of these things in response to such questions as this, and in answering I feel deaf, small, out of sync and alone—but not blind. An image of a path up a barren rocky hill, cluttered with boulders of an improbable but not uniform symmetry, the way altogether devoid of vegetation, yet equally devoid of echo, accompanies me, as if the Way is walking with me and I am already dead.
-1. I can clearly visualize our blonde, shapely, 2nd Grade teacher at Pleasant Plains Elementary School in her purple dress at the chalkboard, but all I see is her hips and tresses—yes, and nice calves, slightly tanned under translucsent [four spellings, the of the word denied by the machine in all four versions] white stockings.
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