Silenced

So many times I will get a couple of personal messages or a phone call saying how someone is concerned because they haven’t heard from me online for a while.

I’m sure most people who know me — even those I’ve have never met in person — probably all perceive me as someone who loves conversation. Be it face to face or some other way, such as on Facebook, for the most part those people would be right. So I can understand why there’d be some genuine concern about me when I go quiet online sometimes.

This silence is not typical for me, because usually, at any given time to any given person I have something to say. I’m the guy you search out at events to avoid the awkward silence.

Not only do I love talking with people, but I love to write my thoughts down, too. What’s nice about writing is that people only have to hear from me when they want, because they can read what I’ve written when they feel like it.

Judging from the responses I get back from all over, I would like to believe that there are people out there who enjoy my stories, or maybe they enjoy what I write as an update from a friend. But knowing this is exactly why I sometimes go dark.

I have an explanation, and it may surprise you.

Typically after writing an article, or posting one of my plumbing stories online, I will get back between four to 20 personal messages about my post. Mostly people are thanking me for the story. As much as I want to read people’s responses to my writing, at first I hesitate to open them because somewhere in there I know what I will find, and the messages usually start out the same.

“I love reading your stories that you post, but I find them painful to read as your punctuation is so terrible. Why is it that you don’t take more time to check for mistakes?”

Perhaps some of you who’ve read my Facebook posts in particular are nodding and saying to yourselves, “Yes! Why doesn’t he take more time to correct the mistakes!”

A few people have even suggested that I’m leaving those glaring (to them) mistakes in on purpose. What they don’t understand is how hard I have to struggle to do something that most find so easy.

Some of you may recall when Microsoft Word first came out. For most people this was probably a nice convenience. For me it was life-changing.

Something people probably don’t know about me is that from a very early age I have had a problem with symbols; mostly letters. For some reason I have always been able to do very large mathematical equations in my head with very little effort. But when it comes to words and letters I struggle immensely. There are many people who are poor spellers, but that does not even begin to describe the scope of my disability, and the frustration that I go through every day.

My disability is as difficult for me to attempt explaining as it is difficult for you to imagine, but I’ll try. For example, when some people say they can see a word in their head, for me, those words are more like pictures.

If I showed you a beautiful landscape picture with a farmhouse and animals running around, you would recognize it, and know what it was. But what if I asked you to draw the farm house from memory? Would you get it right? Would you put the right amount of windows in the house, and put the chickens in exactly the correct places? This is what I go through writing every sentence.

Most people are familiar with the term dyslexia or dyslexic. It is usually associated with a problem with being able to read or comprehend the written word. Although I can perfectly understand what I read, it takes great concentration for me to be able to write it back down. For this reason I have never considered my self dyslexic.

The best way I can describe it is that I seem to lack the ability to see the letters or words in my head. My condition started out when I was very young, at a time when kids who had trouble with putting letters in the right order or direction were accused of just not trying hard enough.

In an effort to avoid ridicule, I quickly learned to mask my disability as much as possible. Reading didn’t give me as much trouble, as long as I had seen the word before and was familiar with it. What I seemed to struggle with the most was being able to sound out a new word; a word I’d not seen before.

It’s as if you’ve seen a picture a million times, you know what it looks like. But for me, for some reason, it was – is – difficult for me to grasp and recognize an individual letter. That’s why, for example, I have difficulty remembering the difference between words like there and their,  or then and than, or are and our.  I use a cheat sheet that I keep beside me when I write, but I don’t always catch every word every time, and when that happens, the mistakes are out there for everyone to see, and yes, to sometimes point out and make fun of.

Maybe some of you are thinking that if only I practiced more, my writing would improve. Trust me when I say I have had more writing practice than you can imagine. My former teachers made sure of it. But nothing helped. One teacher in particular made me stay late after school for months trying to help me. In the end she decided that it’s best if I didn’t discuss my problem with anyone. Because of this, I remained silent for many years. I avoided writing at all costs. Even as a young man stationed overseas, I had to be very careful who I wrote to as they would soon discover my affliction and think less of me.

Then one day the I heard the greatest news: a new writing program had built-in spellcheck. I rushed out and purchased a copy and installed it on my home computer. What I soon discovered was that my spelling was so bad that even the spellcheck had trouble understanding me. It gave no help to my trouble with homonyms; words that are said or spelled the same. There have been many of times where I am struggling with a five-letter word, trying to get the spelling close enough for spellcheck to recognize what I’m trying to write.

My wife has always been very supportive of me, and is always willing to help when she can. I always found it amusing I married an English major who wanted to be a editor. She sometimes sees me struggling and asks why I don’t ask for help. To me this would be like asking your wife to tie your shoes, even though she has shown you a hundred times.

When Facebook came out I decided that I was not going to be silenced any longer. I found myself writing more and more, until one day I was approached by the owner and publisher of a News Cafe.com, who’d been following me on Facebook for a while. She asked if I would like to write a column. It took a while for me to build up the courage to tell her that my punctuation was terrible, and that I struggled with the simplest words. She said that she’d noticed the errors on Facebook, but she didn’t care, because she believed I was a natural writer. She said she knew plenty of writers who were technically perfect, but creatively imperfect.

We made a deal: I would just write down whatever I had to say, without worrying about punctuation. She said that if I got the words down, she’d figure them out and copy edit my work. She worked out a system where one of ANC staff does the first edit of my writing, and then she does the final edit. It did not take her long after I’d submitted my first unedited story for her to ask about my problem. We discussed it for some time, and I think she could tell it was an uncomfortable subject for me. After publishing quite a few of my articles, she asked if I’d ever considered writing about my condition. At first, I thought it was strange for someone like me who struggles with words and letters to attempt writing about it.

For the longest time I put it off, trying to keep my disability hidden, as not to embarrass my family and friends.

This all came to an end recently when once again I received a personal message from someone criticizing my spelling and punctuation. Once again I was silenced. Once again it felt as someone believed that if I lacked the punctuation and spelling skills they’d been blessed to master, that I probably shouldn’t be heard, because my writing was so filled with errors.

I realize that people who contact me about my poor writing, or who leave public comments about it on my Facebook posts, probably don’t mean it in a derogatory way.

What they probably don’t realize is how hurtful and humiliating their words are for me. Maybe they’d feel the same if I commented on something they’d written – perfectly punctuated – but it didn’t capture my interest, or hold my attention. What if I told them their stories were boring? Or what if I told them that I noticed they never write anything original, but rather, they just re-post and share others’ writing?

Of course, I would never say any of those things, because it would be rude.

I believe all of us have different strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, in my case, my strengths and weaknesses are connected, and battle each other daily. How unfair and cruel that I was born with the joyful desire to express myself through writing, but I was also born with a condition that makes it difficult for me to completely access the words I need for people to fully understand what I’m trying to say.

Why did I decide to tell my story? Part of the reason is that I hope it helps people to think twice before criticizing someone’s writing, because as helpful as it may seem at the time, that criticism can have a silencing effect. I hope that my story might help people unplug their inner editors and critics; to not judge, or give unsolicited feedback about someone’s writing, whether publicly or privately, and consider there may be good reasons for someone’s glaring writing errors that have nothing to do with ignorance, or laziness, or education or not trying hard enough.

The other reason I’m sharing my story is that I know there must be others out there like me, people who are as afraid and embarrassed to write as I was for so very long. I hope my story lets them know they’re not alone. I hope my story gives them the courage to write, even when the words aren’t right.

Dan Adams
Dan Adams has been a licensed plumbing contractor for nearly 30 years. He owns and operates Edgewood Plumbing  in Redding with his wife, Holly. In 2000 he and Holly moved to Redding from the Bay Area in search of a better place to raise their sons.
Comment Policy: We welcome your comments, with some caveats: Please keep your comments positive and civilized. If your comment is critical, please make it constructive. If your comment is rude, we will delete it. If you are constantly negative or a general pest, troll, or hater, we will ban you from the site forever. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Comments are disabled on articles older than 90 days. Thank you. Carry on.

39 Responses

  1. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    Dan, I find your stories always interesting and, frankly, never paid attention to your spelling or punctuation. On these social formats there are always anonymous trolls that feel they have to criticize every article. I never get criticized for my spelling and punctuation because everybody hates what I write so I give them plenty of fodder for criticism.

    • Avatar Mary says:

      Dyslexia wasn’t a word when I went to school. I learned to read, probably because my parents read to me from a very early age. I struggled with was and saw and learned to differentiate by the surrounding context.
      I love music and was never able to translate little dots on lines to where I should put my fingers. But I hear it and joyously blend with the vocal and instrumental music.
      Spell checker. Ha,Ha,Ha! Yes, how many attempts to get close enough.
      So many things I would love to write about, but it takes so long.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      I assume you’re kidding about everyone hating what you write, Bruce. If I had to name a Mt. Rushmore of ANC commenters who really annoy people, you wouldn’t be up there.

      I’d be hard pressed to exclude myself, though.

      • Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

        Steve, you wouldn’t be on that Mt. Rushmore. Anyone who takes the time and effort to write an article or LTTE, especially about their own frailties, is tops in my category. The commentators that just criticize without putting any effort out are the ones that belong on that Mt. Rushmore.

    • Well, you see Dan’s work after editing. He’s an awesome writer, and I’m honored to be his editor.

  2. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    Well Dan, between your “outing” your writing disability and Matt’s “outing” of his inability to recognize familiar faces, we ANC viewers have learned about two subjects that we were unaware of. Thank you both for enlightening us.

    • Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

      Beverly, I thought the same thing upon reading this article, how enlightening it was to learn something totally new I’d never heard of before. Being able to share something so personal in a public forum is liberating, and I appreciate both the environment here in ANC and the support of the readers to help lift the burden of a difficult quirk.

      Dan, thanks for sharing this with us, and I’m glad your voice is being heard!

  3. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    Mine is an auditory defect.

    I had my hearing checked repeatedly as a kid, and again as an adult (required for conducting marbled murrelet surveys), and in the testing booth with headphones on I hear the faint beeps and buzzes just fine—a little loss at the higher frequencies by middle age, but even at 60 I pass with flying, slightly faded colors.

    The problem is in the temporal lobe of my brain. I don’t filter background noise. Put me at a table of eight people in a crowded modern restaurant (concrete floors and lots of other hard surfaces), and I can’t make out what anyone at my table is saying. What I hear is the loudest voices in the room against the dull roar of background noise. I become the person at the table who never joins in. It’s an awkward feeling, sitting there with a dumb half-smile, pretending that you’re attending to one conversation or another.

    On the plus side, no one to my knowledge has ever suggested my deficit is intellectual. I’d be shocked, however, if I haven’t been accused of being antisocial—in that crowded hardscaped restaurant, I certainly feel socially retarded. Several people have helpfully suggested that my type of auditory deficit is tied to being somewhere on the autism spectrum. (Thanks, but I’ve been screened—apparently not.)

    Anyway, when it comes to conversing in groups, for me the struggle is real. Writing is the opposite. It’s sometimes too easy—I tend to write at a stream-of-consciousness pace, do a quick edit, and publish. Here on ANC, scrolling through text in the small comments box can result in missed typos and awkward wording—flaws that are immediately apparent (and embarrassing) once the comment is published and wholly visible. Early on I cursed the lack of an edit function on ANC and swore to stay away until one was provided. It took time for me to recognize that I’m likely the only person who cares.

    • We all have our quirks, and Steve, yours must be maddening, especially in big groups where you can’t participate.

      And I’m sorry about the lack of a comment editing feature for readers. Seriously, any time you have an error you want corrected, email me or Joe and we’ll clean it up, no problem.

      I’d hate to have you stay away for any reason.

    • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

      Well Steve, you’re not alone – in two areas: unable to hear conversations and not being able to edit ANC comments. In years past, my husband said of me that I could hear a fly crawling across the ceiling three rooms away with the doors closed. Not so now even with hearing aids. One on one, I have little difficulty conversing – assuming the other person faces me. Around the dining table? Forget it. And television? What’s with what’s supposed to be background music? Instead, the so-called background drowns out the dialogue. And trying to hear sweet young things on the phone who sound like chipmunks on speed keeps me off the horn. Even though hearing aid ads state that their instruments improve clarity, it just ain’t so. Volume is pretty much all they do – even these top-of-the-line aids that I purchase about every two years.

      And I blush at some of my typos in the comment section that I see after I have posted them.

    • Terry Turner Terry Turner says:

      Oh, my gosh! Me, too, with a twist. I hear every conversation around me at the same time, and in a loud place, will miss what the person beside me is saying if the person across the aisle is speaking more loudly. By the end of an event, I am wiped out tired. This is interesting that we have such similar challenges. Thank you for sharing.

    • Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

      And MANY of us who approach . . .. approach? Heck! try ‘over-run’ OLD AGE . . . . are right along with you in the auditory deficit spectrum. If there is ambient noise of any kind and more than one or two conversation threads going on in the vicinity, I just shut down. Yeah, ME, probably one of the more gregarious persons on the planet. I just can’t distinguish articulation. Of course, that makes for some hilarious interpretations of what I THINK someone said!!!

  4. Avatar Richard Christoph says:

    Dan,

    Thank you for this honest, illuminating, and poignant sharing of your personal struggle. Perhaps your candor will be encourage those of us who enjoy your work to be more honest and open about our own deficiencies.

  5. Avatar Vicki Gallagher says:

    Dan, thanks so much for writing about this subject. I can certainly relate. While I do fine with punctuation and spelling, I have a terrible time organizing my thoughts into the proper order when writing. I remember taking an English class at Shasta College as returning adult student. Most of the other older students were offended by an easy exercise our teacher asked us to do. He had written four sentences on the board and asked us to put them in the proper order to form a paragraph. Second grade stuff right? but I couldn’t do it. So embarrassing! Quick writes in high school and college were a nightmare for this very reason. Like you said in your article, the computer has been my savior. Thank God for cut and paste!

    • That must be so frustrating, Vicki!

      My biggest difficulty is with math .. and I mean the most rudimentary math. I almost didn’t attend college because of it. (For anyone who’s math phobic, Shasta College used to have a math class for “non math majors” that was transferable to a CSU college: Patterns of Mathematical Thinking. I barely passed with a C-, transferred to Chico and never had to take another math class again.

      It took me years to admit my poor math skills. It’s empowering to share our foibles rather than keep them hidden in shame.

      • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

        Count me among the math phobics. All through elementary and junior high, I struggled with simple addition and subtraction. Did other schools have T tests? Pure torture. Then my freshman year in high school, I took basic math, and on the first day of class, the wonderful Mr. Simpson held up his yellow lead pencil – remember those? – and announced that pencils had erasers because we all make mistakes. That was freeing for me. I was a C+ student in algebra (. . . and then Satan put the alphabet in math) then a B student in geometry because I could see what was supposed to be happening. Give me English in all its forms from punctuation to grammar to literature and Excel spreadsheets to do the math for me. But please, no long division without a calculator.

      • Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

        Another math-phobic here. I was in elementary school when “new math” was introduced and that might be the root of it. I never caught on. I can function enough to get by but that’s all.

        When we started long division in grade school, my papers would be returned to me marked wrong because when I wrote the answer above the division diagram, I not had written the quotient in exactly the correct places above the dividend. I couldn’t then, and I can’t now, see how that made any difference whatsoever.

        And 9th grade algebra – I spent evenings weeping over homework because I had NO idea what they were talking about. Have I ever used algebra once since then? Nope.

        Like Beverly, give me English.

      • Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

        Okay . . . . I just may have to join the “phobia/deficit revealers.! I, for one, can’t, CAN NOT, spell. I’ve been an addictive reader since a very early age and my mother used to comment, “How can you read by the hour and still not be able to spell?” I bless heaven and earth for the development of spell-check! But I too, have had the experience of trying to spell something close enough so that spell-check can figure out what I’m looking for. Ahhh the foibles of being human! Some of us sure do lend interesting color and texture to the tapestry of life!

  6. Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

    I can’t say it better than Henry Van Dyke who wrote, “Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.”

    Thank you for telling us about being silenced… and for not being silenced, after all.

  7. Avatar Candace C says:

    Thanks for sharing this Dan, I’ve always enjoyed your writing. Bruce, I don’t always hate what you write, far from it. Steve, you’re one of the people who’s writing I look forward to. Having been a proofreader for years I gave up early on when things went digital. Drove me nuts. I struggle with feeling like I’m coming across as a holier than thou snob when I comment on ANC. I did not attend College or University as both my parents and children did. In fact I was a straight A student who dropped out of high school to end up getting my GED. Doni can attest to the fact (sorry Doni!) that I struggle with writing a LTTE for the “what if they find out I’m me” reason. Doni, thanks for persuading Dan to write for ANC and providing a platform (community) for intelligent conversation and a place to share our humanity. It’s important.

    • Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

      Candace, I knew I connected with you for I am too a GED. Please write a LTTE, Doni is good at polishing them up.

      • Avatar Candace C says:

        Bruce, I wrote one and then chickened out. It’s not the punctuation ( at least some) or wording I struggle with, it’s the fear of sounding like a self involved idiot. Anyway, the thing Dan struggles with and has bravely written about here is real and important for others with similar struggles to hear. My perceived “struggle” is nothing when held up to that. (I do appreciate your encouragement, thanks for that!)

  8. Avatar Nancy Hill says:

    Thank you writing this Dan. As I read your article I found myself relating to it heavily as I also have dsylsxia. Spell check was a god send and helped me get through college. I still to this day struggle with it and am also challenged with it when on social media or in physical conversations with people in general. I am currently a teacher and because of the dsylsxia, I am able to relate to my students that struggle as well. The more people that speak out about the difficulties, the greater possibility for people to get the help and support they need. Thank you again.

  9. Avatar Patricia Bay says:

    I LOVE THIS ARTICLE!!! Thank you so much for your willingness to be vulnerable and share with others. I will share your article with kids who struggle with various issues. It will help more people than you will ever know!

  10. Avatar Teresa Norman says:

    Thank you Dan!! I enjoy your postings. Now that you “have that off your chest” I hope you do not allow anyone to silence you again!! Two thoughts come to my mind, you may have considered them…or not! Perhaps a voice transcription program? It takes some getting used to, but they are nice. My other idea is maybe put a “disclaimer” header on your writings. Something like “Dear Readers, I have a problem similar to dyslexia regarding spelling and punctuation. If that sort of thing makes you crazy please feel free to scroll on by my article. If you choose to read what I have written, there will be no reason for you to message me about errors, thank you anyway. I already know about my issue, but have chosen to not let anyone silence me!” ( perhaps Doni could clean that up a bit! ?)

  11. Avatar Sue Shine says:

    Dan, I so appreciate your sharing your very personal thoughts and experiences. I can only begin to imagine what a trial this has been for you (for most of your life). You are indeed fortunate to have access to this ANC venue. I thank Doni and staff for assisting you by editing your writing. I truly enjoy your articles please keep them coming!
    Steve Towers: I share your auditory problem – so frustrating. When I’ve finished eating, I push my plate away, lean around and converse with the friend on my right, because I find lip-reading a Must. As an aside, I do wear expensive hearing aids with “speech in noise” feature.

    • Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

      Let me say something right here, right now. Doni has been editor in chief for more that one writer . . . a-hem!! Present company included. Many of we erstwhile writers struggle with various aspects of the mechanics of writing . . . DONI FIXES EVERYTHING!!! I cannot say it loud enough: THANK YOU, DONI!

      • Awww, shucks, thanks, AJ. I don’t catch everything, but my goal is to publish content that won’t embarrass the writer (and ANC). We ALL need editors!

        And actually, I enjoy copy editing. It’s like an Easter egg hunt.

  12. Terry Turner Terry Turner says:

    Dan, your article really moved me. I am so grateful that you shared this with us.

    My family is full of dyslexics. But I didn’t realize how dyslexic I am until I was 37. I just thought I “wasn’t any good” at certain things. Then I discovered Helen Irlen and Scotopic Sensitivity, and realized how hard I was working at school, and that my brain is just wired differently.

    In my family, we each have our own things we can do well and things that are always a struggle. Mine is math. I realized one day that numbers float in a pool in my head, and so 47 and 74 are really the same thing in my head. I do balance my checkbook, but I have to do it when I’m very well rested and not distracted, using a calculator, or it’s a disaster. My son, though, is a math whiz, but actively avoids having to read a book. My grandson was in T-K, and struggling. One day, he wrote his name with the letters shaped perfectly, and spaced perfectly – completely backwards. (I like to point out to him all the ways in which he is Amazing! – you should see him build a train track.)

    And you are So right about how we are perceived. How often teachers told me that I needed to ‘try harder’ in math, that I needed to ‘practice more’ – I was in ‘remedial math’ in 8th grade. 🙁

    I am now even more grateful to Doni for encouraging your gifted writing. We are all richer for what you share with us.

    And thank you, too, for the reminder not to critique other’s spelling and punctuation. Several brilliant people I know are lousy spellers. I think it’s because there are so many ways a word Could be spelled. My theory about spelling is this: Somebody just made up the ‘right way’ to spell a word – and the spelling might not even make sense. 🙂
    Thanks again for a powerful article!

    • Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

      Here’s the spelling key for me. I have a difficult time distinguishing between vowel sounds . . . yeah . . .me . . . . a musician . . . . and I think that’s because we are not a Latin based language group where the vowels are (more or less) consistently pronounced the same way. I KNEW it!!! Gosh darn it!! I was SUPPOSED to have been born in Italy!!!

  13. Avatar Hollis Pickett says:

    Well….I was going to offer copy editing for free but it would appear that you already have access to that. That said, we all have our stuff. Go forth, be unafraid….you have company….:-)

  14. Dan, what can I say except you’re a hero in my book for putting yourself out there and writing, because you’re a writer, and that’s what writers do; even on social media where you know you may be ridiculed.

    Thank you for your honesty, your transparency and your willingness to be, as Patty pointed out, vulnerable. You may have noticed how your bravery encouraged others to open up about our weaknesses. And we’re all the better for it.

    You are a gifted wordsmith, and it’s my honor and delight to be your copy editor. Write on, my friend! We look forward to reading what you have to say.

  15. Avatar Rick Zeller says:

    Dan, I’ve always enjoyed your stories here and just want to thank you for sharing such a personal story about the challenges you face in writing them. I also enjoy writing but most of my creativity remains between the covers of spiral notebooks or secured on a hard drive. You inspire me to let myself be vulnerable and share some of my written words with others. Thanks.

  16. Avatar Janine Hall says:

    Great article. Makes me realize how we all have special gifts and special struggles. I am not good with writing and spelling. I hate spell check when it is not even close to what I want it to spell correctly for me. And math, well that is another I am not good at. But give me something to fix, I can do that most of the time. Thanks for sharing and keep writing.

    • Janine, you are correct that we all have special gifts and special struggles. Where you may be lacking in some areas, you may up for in spades as a brilliant jewelry designer and artist.

  17. R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

    I’m a good speller but I appreciate spell checking, even though it has decreased my spelling ability to a certain extent. What I hate is auto-correct. It messes up my typing rhythm. On the stupid PC laptop I use now this feature turns itself on and off at will. I don’t like. Also, Doni says I misspell strange names all the time, which is embarrassing.

    When I go missing on Facebook, most people know it’s because I’m writing an article for anewscafe and can’t be bothered.