A New Beginning
 

“Dreams, books, are each a world; and books, we know,
Are a substantial world, both pure and good:
Round these, with tendrils strong as flesh and blood,
Our pastime and our happiness will grow.”
William Wordsworth

My eyes have spent much of their lives absorbed in books. Lost in their splendour, my hands itch to hold the covers that bind dried pages, whose musky fragrance satisfies the senses of a heart that craves knowledge. My thirst has been quenched by sentences whose ripples have helped make sense of the world. Yet it wasn’t always this way; even though my heart longed and prayed to read, I couldn’t. My teachers were unaware that I couldn’t. My family hadn’t noticed I couldn’t. There was no panacea for my misfortune; I was deeply embarrassed and couldn’t face the humiliation of informing my teachers. They thought that I enjoyed murmuring to myself quietly in the corner of the classroom, whilst others read in groups. Disquieted by shame, I isolated myself and spent lunch times sitting alone on a wooden bench making daisy chains. I left primary school not being able to spell my surname, read a whole sentence or write without spilling over the lines.

Despite my concealed situation, I was excited beyond expression about secondary school. I don’t know if it was the realisation that I was finally a teenager or that one of my teachers would notice my illiteracy. I walked through the doors of Plashet School with a rucksack full of hope. During our induction, we took a break and were encouraged to visit the school’s library. Whilst others rested I decided to do as encouraged; I walked around mesmerised, there was something beautiful in the stillness, the peaceful quietness disturbed only by the sound of turning pages. It was a whispering in the room’s mist; I was surrounded by imagination that planted seeds in blank pages waiting to awake and feed my starving eyes.

I had never believed in fairy tales, yet I believed in fairy godmothers, and, just like Cinderella, mine came in the form of a Special Needs teacher, Mrs Radley. She was petite with cloudy grey hair and glimmering blue eyes that complemented her snow white skin. I had taken an instant liking to her; she was caring and witty, with an inviting smile. Each session lasted one hour and we made full use of every second. We began from the very beginning with the alphabet and phonics. I would listen to every word, absorbing the sound waves, enriching my mind.

A few months passed. Mrs Radley was pleased with my progress, saying I was ready to start reading books. We began with a book which consisted of more pictures than sentences. The language was basic and the images gave away most of the story. I grew doubtful but Mrs Radley assured me that small steps were the way to go. We agreed that she would read the first sentence and I would follow. What started as a simple suggestion was transformed into an ordeal. The smallest words began to linger, resembling a never-ending rope. My eyes slowly produced tears and within seconds everything on the page seemed to have turned to water.

It took Mrs Radley a while to draw me from my self-pity and settle me back into our sessions. Remaining enthusiastic, she encouraged me more than before, saying she understood my upset. She praised me for my continued efforts, explaining that education is a journey on which even the most intelligent struggle. We slowly began to make progress again until it was time for the summer break. She created a reading pack for me to practise over the holidays and said she was looking forward to seeing me again.

As the summer arose I worked at my reading so I could impress Mrs Radley as well as myself. However, all the sounds I had learnt had vanished from my memory; the more I attempted, the less I seemed able to grasp. A few weeks passed before I surrendered and abandoned the reading pack to gather dust under my bed.

It was my first day back at school. I had missed my class friends and was delighted to be reunited with them. Mrs Radley came to collect me from one of my classes and was curious to know how I had got on. I remained silent for few minutes before revealing my experience. She glanced at me intently and placed her hand on top of mine as a sign of reassurance.kyra nn

I was determined to improve my literacy to enable me to take part in group reading, rather than excluding myself. My confidence slowly grew and, with time, I became inured to embarrassment; my teachers showed great patience and the friends who sat beside me would encourage me. Progress was slow, but consistent, and I felt fortunate. By the end of my third year I was able to read a whole paragraph of a simple book. My pace was slow but I was no longer reluctant to continue if I wasn’t able to pronounce a word. I gradually learnt and accepted that though I was not like other students there was nothing wrong with my capabilities and that with time I should read and write like them. An unexpected change in circumstances meant that I had to transfer schools, and I joined Lister Community School.

Lister was different from my previous school; there were popular and not so popular kids, just like the high schools in American movies. The teachers were unhurried about homework and classroom exercises and the atmosphere was easy-going. I made friends quickly, and was even liked by some of the popular kids. Yet I was hesitant and a little withdrawn. I was neither confident nor comfortable reading aloud in class and spent months failing to participate. English language was my most beloved subject; I enjoyed listening to my teacher reading poetry which we were studying in preparation for our final exams. There was something delightful about the rhymes and rhythms, and the poignancy of the prose, the intensity of which left me in awe. I was in love with the composition and the thoughtful and beautiful language.

I no longer wanted to be invisible, and one day after class I approached our classroom assistant, Mrs Stevens. She wasn’t as approachable as Mrs Radley, but had a profound love for literature, which was apparent when she spoke. She asked to see me during my lunch hours. We would meet twice a week to study poetry. I loved the eloquence in the poetry and how many translations one could make from a single sentence. I knew then that I had a love for words that went beyond anything I had known or experienced. Books became my best teacher and, like William Wordsworth once said, I filled my papers with the breathing of my heart and started to write. Showering all my expectations and desires on water-thin paper, as they took harbour in my imagination I practised my reading voraciously, and wrote daily on my journey to and from school. I left school with a D in English language. Where others might have been bitterly disappointed, I was delighted. Considering that I had recently been barely able to read, I was now able to write an academic essay and analyse poetry.

Great Expectations

My ambition to attend college was put aside when my parents decided to move back to their homeland. Without appropriate qualifications, I was unable to pursue my ambition to attend college, and abandoned the idea of ever achieving an education. Four long years passed. I travelled with my family to Asia, but couldn’t find fulfilment in their cultural expectations for me and eventually, much to their disappointment, decided to follow my dreams. At the age of eighteen I left home with £180 and nowhere to live.

It took a couple of years to find my bearings and, at the age of twenty-one, I attended adult college to pursue the study of Nursing. A cosmic ambition for a woman who wasn’t vastly intelligent; yet I was determined to succeed and wanted to combat my academic limitations. In my first term my class tutor had referred me for a Special Needs assessment. I accepted his request which resulted in a diagnosis of dyslexia. To my surprise, I embraced the result, and committed myself to the support programme. I left college with admirable grades, which enabled me to gain a place at one of the most renowned nursing universities in London. I embraced every lecture and subject, studying until the early hours of the morning. Yet my efforts drowned in a sea of helplessness where even my desperation couldn’t aid me to shore. Having failed all my exams, my university granted me one last attempt and, with the support of a scribe, I passed with overwhelming results.

As one part of me flourished in victory, the other perished in loss when, one morning, my programme director called me in for a progress review. I sat in silence as she informed me how dramatically I’d fallen behind and that I could no longer continue on the degree course. I sat still, listening as she spoke her final words slaying my aspirations with bitter words, stating that I was like a blind person who wanted to see, and that education isn’t for all. Her voice echoed around me and in these few moments my dreams left my body and flew beyond the skies, lingering among the stars before they disappeared in their entirety.

At the age of twenty five, with the prospect of finding another ambition, I worked in the fashion retail industry, working my way up and building an impressive profile which enabled me to freelance. Even with such rapid success, I had innumerable doubts as to whether my career would bring me enduring satisfaction. As months passed, my uncertainties grew and, just as I had done when I was a little girl, I turned to books in search of solace. I spent most nights reading and studying literature, and began writing poetry once more, which brought me great pleasure. I found fulfilment among the dense compositions of delicate prose. I found answers in serene worlds created through the gift of the imaginings of others. I found bewilderment in narratives marbled like rosehips. My admiration for writers grew and, as I laid each book to rest to begin another, I learnt things that no one could teach me. Words became the perfume of my mind, whose odour enriched my heart and travelled through to my soul, diffusing clouds of hope.

Shantaram

After careful consideration, I resigned from my job in order to follow my dream of education once more and, at the age of twenty-seven; I applied for a BA in Creative Writing at London South Bank University. For the first time in my life I released my writing, hoping that my source of joy would open another door. As the last colourless leaves fell and winter passed, I discovered that I had been awarded a place. As I made my way for my first day at university on the train I read the words of Jorge Luis Borges:

“A writer – and, I believe, generally all persons – must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.

Returning to university is one of the best decisions I’ve made; education has enriched my life, increased my pleasure for literature and challenged me academically. With each passing day a new word has glistened, creating a home in my memory, waiting to be used by me. Along with the delights have also come the disappointments and challenges, some of which have created doubts about my capabilities. However the doubts are short lived and as they disappear I come to the realisation that not all intelligence is mechanical and that imagination is very definitely essential form intelligence. I realise that Logic doesn’t always help you achieve your best; and that determination and the will to succeed can outrun any limitations. Einstein said that imagination is more important than knowledge and this I hold up high.

Some achievements bring you an overwhelming joy that you hope will last until you take your last breath. Mine came the first day I read a whole sentence without a pause or mistake; it’s a moment that lives forever present in my memory. I knew from that day that I wanted to live my life among books. I wrote my first poem at the age of thirteen, skimming through a dictionary to help me create the prose.

What are we without words, but non-existent and a silent sound?

What are we without words but nature that has no imagination?

What are we without words…. For I don’t know.

I often wonder what my life would be if I hadn’t learnt to write and loved to write and the very thought scares my soul because I’ve lived my best when I’ve surrounded myself with books. Through books, I’ve travelled the world and experienced endless adventures. Through owning them I’ve enriched my home and am imbued with infinite happiness.

kyra nn2

Having a learning difficulty can make one feel indistinct; facing the unknown consistently can remove you from yourself. Learning how to read, process information and write can become a formidable challenge; one that continues throughout a sufferer’s life. There have been many moments in my life where I have allowed my difficulties to put my aspirations on hold; I have lost myself many times in the world of dyslexia, where minimal vocabulary can become the norm. As an adult and an aspiring writer I’ve found less satisfaction in the fundamentals, and have learnt that keeping the written word to a minimum is in itself a crime. Restriction is not untreatable; it’s a challenge, one which all dyslexics can conquer. Books contain an overwhelming wisdom and I hope that all dyslexics will one day, just like me, walk in the garden of books.

Kyra

Photo Credit: Marta Sputo