Dyslexia by Miriam Sagan

I spent a big chunk of last week locked in to room 132 in my go-to motel at the south end of town. I revised a chapbook length memoir currently called “Stash.” I’ve been writing it–and ignoring it–for several years. This seems to be my process of late, maybe since I retired. I’m usually working on several books at once, and some projects go more smoothly than others. This one seems to finally be jelling, due in large part to the editorial hand of my spouse Rich Feldman. His belief that continuity in details leads to meaning and theme in the whole seems to be right.

Here is a piece from “Stash” about a favorite topic of mine–dyslexia. I’m happy to finally have some overview on my experience.

Dyslexia

In the first grade, I taught a boy named Bruce how to tie his shoes. It was natural to me to explain what I knew, but the teacher praised me for being kind. I didn’t really like Bruce, and didn’t feel very kind. It just seemed wrong for me to know and him not to.
That was the last praise I got. Shadows of bare branches wove in and out on the ceiling on my childhood bedroom. Bird tracks in snow. Patterns were everywhere, but I couldn’t read them. The black words on the white pages squiggled away…the letters slipped off like crumbs swept from an oilcloth. I was afraid and alone. It was like looking at hieroglyphs—symbols stood for the word. Pretty soon I was in the “slow reading group” with, of course, Bruce.
I really couldn’t read at all. Consonants, vowels: they swarmed across the page like ants. If was lucky, I could count and figure out what sentence I’d be asked to read. I might know a few words, or letters. Then I’d listen carefully to everyone else. If they read “See Spot” I tried to find something similar in my sentence.
My parents lectured me. My father, the Freudian, said I was afraid to grow up. I wanted MY PARENTS to keep reading to me. My mother yelled that I was not paying attention. Then the lecturing began. I was not living up to my potential. Soon they would be saying I wouldn’t go to college or get married because I wouldn’t “meet anybody interesting.” I was too dumb.
So I was “tested.” I saw two squares in the machine instead of one. Everyone was upset and angry. I was diagnosed with “mixed dominance”—when I grow up I’ll find this funny and say: “this isn’t as sexy as it sounds.” People now say—surely you got help, had a kind tutor, were given…something. Nothing. This was my brain, and I was going to have to get used to it.
However, the summer of fourth grade I did begin to read. I had no idea why. Suddenly it came together. I was still not doing well in school and people were still yelling at me but I now had the most beautiful secret worlds into which I could escape.
Reading remains unusual for me. I can read extremely fast, and sometimes words light up in different colors. However, I still cannot spell. All of these things have names and a diagnosis. But to me this is just how things are.
I managed to do well in high school. I went to Harvard. I graduated in three years with honors. Aiming at a Master’s Degree, I took the GRE General Test in Memorial Hall, at a spot on a long table. In the language portion, a bizarre thing occurred. The correct answers lit up. I was working on paper, but if the correct answer was C, the C appeared to start blinking with a colored light, so I checked it. I get an almost perfect score. I was aware that no one else would be able to see these blinking lights, so I did not mention them.
My first husband (proving my mother wrong, I’ll have two) attempted to teach me to spell. He put words on stickies and strewed them around the apartment on Rose Alley in San Francisco. When I reached for the doorknob I saw “hassle.” When I sat on the toilet, I encountered “Bodhisattva.” However, I never learned to spell. My second husband simply proofreads everything for me.
All errors here are my own.

 

Rosetta Stone

Artist Angela A Young Lee

I recently met this artist on zoom during a series of presentations at World of Co. I was lucky to attend World of Co this past summer, and continue to follow what they are doing. An on-line residency based in Bulgaria, they bring together international artists in many disciplines. https://worldof.co/ (Highly recommended–affordable, educational, and full of personal attention and support. I finished curating the opening of my Poetry Yard with their help and feedback).
One of the reasons I was interested in Angela A Young Lee is that her work has a huge literary component–it is based on a private typography. I can also see how this derives from written Korean. I was in Seoul more than twenty-five years ago. It was exciting to be in Asia for the first time, and yet the energy of a great city that never sleeps brought back vivid memories of the first four years of my life in Manhattan. I find the rumble of garbage trucks, blinking neon, and traffic white noise utterly soothing!
A Young Lee is based in Seoul, Korea. Her works use a typography and a new language she created. It feels similar to asemic writing–and like that form it is open to interpretation. The artist says: Lee’s works do not suggest certain ways to read nor meaning behind her paintings because she respects and welcomes all the experiences and feelings people had, just like verbal communication does.

 

 

Du Fu KFC

Editor’s note: I revere the Chinese poet Du Fu, although have only read the poems in translation. On the other hand, I’ve never been in a KFC. But this incredible story caught my interest!
***
https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/du-fu-kfc-poetry
A KFC honors an eighth-century Chinese poet with holograms and verse.
Du Fu, the eighth-century Chinese poet now lauded as one of the greatest wordsmiths who ever lived, resided in a humble thatched hut in Chengdu at the peak of his literary life. He wrote lyrically about cooking cold noodles garnished with the leaves of the scholartree, but he never had a fried chicken sandwich or a Pepsi. Yet at a KFC in the heart of Chengdu, a holographic pyramid beams 3-D images of his hut in spring, summer, winter, and fall.
A surprisingly elegant scene greets those seeking fried chicken here. Tables are covered in poems by Du Fu in the handwriting of the Qianlong Emperor, while tiles on the wall and brush paintings display rich designs of the Tang dynasty, Du Fu’s milieu and the era widely considered to be China’s poetic golden age.

Mystie Brackett: Fire

I met Mystie in San Francisco in the 1980’s. Recently I’ve been following what she is doing as a painter.
She says: When I was in 7th grade, we were learning to oil paint. I had painted a vase of flowers on a table. When the teacher, an old Southern woman, came around to look at my work, she took the brush out of my hand and painted on my painting to‘correct’ the perspective on the table. I never took art again, as she was the only teacher in the small school I went to through high school.
I went on to become a custom picture framer so my days were literally and figuratively spent around art. Many of my artist friends wondered why I didn’t paint. About 15 years ago, a friend posted about a great class she’d just started for ‘experienced painters and daring beginners’ taught by a wonderful teacher who was a student of Chogyam Trungpa. It was an open  studio with support and the perfect place for my artistic expression to re-emerge. The class was in the spring and there was no class over the summer. Having just reconnected with art, I couldn’t bear to stop so I asked the man whose studio it was if we could come Wednesday afternoons and paint for a small fee and he agreed. Been painting there Wednesday afternoons since!!!
My style tends to be non -representational, ‘process’ painting~I don’t have an idea of what’s going to happen; I just start, guided by something that doesn’t feel like ‘me’. I am more fearless when painting than ‘I’ am usually; pushing  the mediums, not sure where I’m going but proceeding till there is…resolution, some sense of ‘this is it’, or at least ‘I should stop for now’.
Numerous people have joined our Wednesday afternoons over the years but there are a core 2 others who are most consistent. We have a strong group field and frequently ask each other if our piece is done or what it needs. I love painting in a group field.” 

I was particularly struck by her recent work on Colorado fires.
She says: I use painting to metabolize traumatic events so this fire painting was started to help me process the winds and fires of 12/30/21 in Colorado, known as the Marshall Fire, that burned 6000 acres, destroyed 1000 homes and took 2 lives. At my house, 20 mile NW of the fire, we had sustained winds of 60+mph with gusts over 100mph. Just the wind was harrowing!! And then, Fire. Watching the grass fire spread at an unbelievable speed and take out home after home, a Target, a hotel and then, whole neighborhoods. No words.
So, I painted. And, as happens when I paint to metabolize a trauma, many of the aspects of the traumatic event arise as I paint. With this painting, there was lots and lots of water, not being able to ‘capture’ the ash and smoke and having to surrender and let it take its course.”

The painter adds: These are in order, top to bottom, of how the painting progressed. I was using alcohol inks and India ink, primarily but by the 3rd picture, had added some grey acrylic to ‘anchor’ the ash.

 

The framed painting is available in an online art auction to benefit the fire victims through firehouseart.org or on the Auctria app as Marshall and Middle Fork Fires Art Auction.

Range

Here is a one-line haibun, written about a decade ago when I was in residence in Great Basin with Center for Land Use Interpretation.
Paired with a photograph by Isabel Winson-Sagan, taken recently in Canyonlands/Moab, Utah.
Range

Numbers 1-15 on the shooting range out on the salt flats–the magic of numbers in a landscape: sequence, meaning, or the appearance of meaning.
I drew
this mountain range
with one line.

Artist PeiXin Liu

https://www.peixinliu.com/about

I met PeiXin Liu at a residency with Ayatana/Art Loves Science

Her website says: Through applying unexpected material onto existing forms, she creates a narrative that demonstrates a particular aspect about social relations. She is often inspired by her multicultural identity(Chinese/Canadian).

I was immediately drawn to her work, but this piece created from crochet particularly got my attention. The artist’s mother, Hua Mo, is an avid crocheter, and Pei grew up in a household adorned by her work. Her mother fabricated this piece to Pei’s sculptural specifications.

A fascinating—and very unique—collaboration.

Butterfly, flower, and haiku by Ursula Moeller

New Year’s surprise
cabbage white butterfly
flies through our house   whence?

The amazing story is that several years ago, when I examined a full-in-bloom amaryllis, I discovered a cabbage white butterfly in its center.
Today we have a blooming amaryllis, and at the same time, the same species butterfly (female).
Whence and how and why are the questions.

15 Easy Minutes by Miriam Sagan

Time—friend or foe? I’ve always engaged with it. In the 5th grade, I suffered horribly from boredom and the snail-like pace of time passing, particularly the last quarter hour of the day. The big clock would click and move forward every minute. Every 60 seconds.

School let out at 3 pm. At 2:45 I’d start to watch the clock. I’d try to do 15 tiny things to amuse myself as time passed. John Cage would have loved me.

1. Hold my breath. See how long I could do that. Practice in case I fell into the water from a boat. (Not very likely, but better safe than sorry).

2. Twist the button on my shirt until it fell off. Count how many times I had to twist this. (My mother hated this, but I never told her how it kept happening).

3. See how many times I could kick my friend Mary Ann’s foot until one of her tennis-shoe shod feet would kick me back. (She was good-natured and didn’t seem to mind).

4. Stare at the back of the boy I had a mild crush on and will him to turn around. A smile was a bonus. (I loved him because he was sarcastic—unwittingly the start of a trend in my romantic life).

5. Count to a hundred fast in under a minute. (I still do this).

6. Do #5 but backwards. (100, 99, 98, etc.).

7. Scribble a line and then work it with a pencil over and over until the paper shredded and I was writing directly on the desk. (I’m sure you’ll enjoy this too).

There were more, but this is most of what I can remember. I did have a winter scarf with fringe that could be braided different ways. I don’t know if this was the start of my time-killing technique called “think about something for a minute”—what I’d like to eat, how to spend a million dollars, who I’d put a hit on, and more.

I have spent my life since 5th grade playing creative tricks with my mind. And it seems time has passed. I’ll be turning 68 this spring. Click. Click.