The inattentive reader

 

I like the idea of reading books, being the type of person who reads books. Right now I have a stack of overdue library books I’m slowly working through. I don’t listen to music anymore either, except 80s hard rock and pop, and classic rock in my car. And I like the idea of listening to music as well. About six months ago my niece asked me what my favorite thing to do is. I said reading. She said, “I thought it was knitting.” I hadn’t brought any books with me for the visit but had brought a knitting project. I hope it’s just a phase. I did find copies of some of the Heralds of Valdemar series by Mercedes Lackey, which I’d loved as a teen at a bookstore while I was visiting them.

 

I was talking with a friend who said the fact that I have trouble reading books could be part of ADD. I do have a hard time remembered the beginning of a paragraph by the time I get to the end. I also have a hard time picturing characters. I have the idea that when other people read a novel they have a movie player in their head. I don’t know if that’s an accurate representation of how others read though.

 

It could be that if I was on ADHD meds in addition to the ones I already take, reading might be easier and more enjoyable. It could also be that I can’t understand or relate to many characters in novels. I tend to lead a passive and sedentary life. I go to activities daily, but when I get home I just shut down. That could be from the overstimulation of the world outside my door.

It’s hard for me to relate to characters who have goals. My main goal still is is to survive. I seek peace and a retreat from the world. That’s what people supposedly get out of books. I just encounter too many characters who want to get married or have careers, or even relationships. Or in fantasy who want adventure. Adventure in the form of crisis and drama seems to follow me everywhere. It could be that I’m not reading the right books, as in books I would really enjoy.

There are plenty that don’t follow traditional plot structure, and I have read those, both literary and genre.

One thing holding me back from finding books I truly enjoy is the pressure I feel to read. I’m not in school, so I don’t mean required reading. I mean like when I sat myself down and forced myself to read Gravity’s Rainbow because other people in the local poetry scene had read it, and I wanted to fit in, to emulate them. I have to keep trying to read to be the type of person I think I want to be. The type who doesn’t own a television. Who doesn’t like sports. Part of the literati, the intelligentsia.

I hate to admit that it may all boil down to wanting to impress others. And to be different from my mother whose mind contained nothing but God and Jesus, and who never read anything except the Bible. It was my father who first tried to keep me from becoming her. He bought me classic children’s books, ones that had won awards.

So yeah. Trying to please one parent by not being like the other, my soul and mind a battlefield. It makes it difficult to read for pleasure.

I didn’t bring up reading at my psychiatric appointment soon after getting my test results that say I’m on the spectrum and have ADHD. My resident opened the file on his computer and skimmed the results as we talked. Nothing else was done. Just medication refills. I still think books are good for me, like vegetables, even if I have a hard time with them.

Helen and Talia

This post is about two books that affected me growing up: Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You by Barthe DeClemens and the Arrows Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey.

Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You is about Helen Nichols, a girl with dyslexia. Helen is pretty much the opposite of who I was at that age. She was a terrific athlete and a genius in math, while I was always last picked in PE and excelled in English. But the similarities between us were there. Sure, I had no problem with reading, but like Helen, my grades suffered, in my case because I would forget to do assignments, forget my homework, books, paper and pencil.

But the part of this book that really resonated with me was when the school has her meet with a psychotherapist. This is presumably to test her for dyslexia, though that word is never used, I assume because it’s a book for young readers. This meeting ends up getting Helen placed in special education for English, though she’s still with her regular class for other subjects. The psychotherapist has Helen throw, catch, and kick a ball, and tells her she’s very coordinated.

I also met with a specialist, but in my case it was physical therapists, the earliest I can remember being in third grade. They said the opposite about me – that I was very UNcoordinated. I was given a Pilates type ball and a list of exercises to do at home. I also met with a physical therapist in fourth or fifth grade before school. I would do things like ride a Roller Racer between cones set up to form a path. There were other things I did but I can’t remember what.

It might sound like fun, but I was ashamed of all of it. No other kids that I knew had an exercise ball and I was the only one going to the special sessions before school. I was scared of the other kids finding out. One day two boys did see me, and cornered me saying, “You were riding a Roller Racer!” I was also angry because these early morning sessions meant I couldn’t be in the yearbook club, which also met in the morning. Looking back, I think working on the yearbook would’ve been more beneficial, whatever physical difficulties I might have had.

In sixth grade my dad told the band director I should play a brass instrument because that’s what a physical therapist had said. I wrote about my bad experiences in band here . The latest I remember having these weird things I had to do, that I didn’t understand why, was in junior high when my dad bought some kind of rocking platform to stand on while I hit a ball suspended from the garage ceiling with a wooden stick held in both hands. The stick had numbers on it and I was supposed to make the ball hit the different numbers. My brother also “played” with it, but we knew it was really for me.

For a while I was friends with the girl my age who moved in next door, at least until she started hanging out with the popular crowd instead. She came over and I had her try the contraption, explaining it would help her with balance. She gave it a halfhearted attempt before laughingly handing the stick back to me saying, ” My balance is pretty good.”

My dad refuses to talk about this with me. I feel like I have the right to know why I had to do all those things. I also think it’s suspicious that he doesn’t want to tell me, like he knows he did something wrong. Maybe those exercises helped, but I think they did more harm than good, because I felt so ashamed, either because I was made to feel that way or because no one noticed how it was affecting me and tried to make me feel better about it.

I’ve researched about developmental coordination disorder, and suspect that’s what my diagnosis was. I’ve brought it up with my counselor but not my psychiatrist. It could help to talk to him about it. I’m not sure what can be done now and I suspect he’ll say I should focus on the present and my “recovery”. I’m glad my therapist at least will work with me on childhood trauma. Also putting this out in the blogosphere might give me some answers, connect me with others who experienced this, so I don’t feel alone.

I was very much alone growing up. I was alternately bullied and ignored by my peers. I found solace in the Arrows Trilogy because it was a fantasy world where wonderful psychic horses who loved you unconditionally take you out of an abusive situation to be with a select group of other people also chosen by the horses, people who are good at heart and can be trusted implicitly.

Talia, the main character, grows up in a fundamentalist sect where women are married off early to men with several wives. She doesn’t fit in because she likes to read, especially tales about the people who ride the magical horses, who are called Heralds. She is rebellious because of her reading and daydreaming, but also shy and with issues of self confidence. These are exacerbated by her community’s attempts to control her and break her spirit with beatings and other abuse.

Talia finally runs away when her family tries to marry her off on her thirteenth birthday. She’s rescued by one of the magical horses who chooses her to become a Herald. She finally is surrounded by people who care about her, but it takes a long time to finally learn to trust.

These books are good for teenagers, though adults will see problems with plot and characterization. The author, Mercedes Lackey, has a very progressive view of sexuality and includes LGBT characters. In fact there’s a whole trilogy, set in the same world, with a gay protagonist. When I first read that series, I was in junior high and had a pretty conservative background, so I didn’t really like that, but now I appreciate how groundbreaking that was at the time. Maybe it’s time to revisit that series now that I have a more open mind.”””