They Took my Pencil

It’s not uncommon to find an author’s bio stuffed with tales articulating their lifelong love affair with books. Sometimes their college academic achievements that lead to degrees in English or other literary related fields. I love many of these bios, they’re just not mine. I wish I’d fallen in love with books as a child and carried that passion throughout life, but I didn’t. In truth, I hated reading. Hated everything about it for the first twenty years of my life.

My story starts in Texas, where I was born, and where they took my pencil. I was always behind the curve in the reading and language arts classes in school. It was just hard for me. I could read, but not well, and certainly not fast. By the time I struggled through a sentence I’d forgotten what the dang thing was about and had to start over.

My physical writing skills weren’t up to par. The creative parts I had down. I could always create a story from nothing and I had an above average vocabulary to match. Problem was, I struggled to get it down on paper in a way that someone else could understand. I couldn’t spell, I always used the wrong homophone, and although I could put together a proper sentence verbally, I couldn’t tell you what all the parts were on those stupid worksheets. You would think that would be plenty of challenges to overcome in grade school, but to make it worse my handwriting was horrible too.

By second grade I’d taken a bazillion test for every known mental defect under the sun. Testing was a success! They found what they were looking for. They called it dysgraphia with a side of dyslexia. I called it the most irritating combination of mental disorders for a person that never felt mentally disabled.

I could write you a book on the challenges of a kid with these disorders, but since this is just a bio I’ll go with short and sweet. To sum it up, I was smart. Just as smart as any of my peers and in a lot of areas I was better than most, but it didn’t matter because I couldn’t get the info out of my head in the conventional manner. And yes, in school the conventional manner is all that matters, because it’s what you’re tested on. I had the answers, but when I put the pencil to paper something shorted out. I could see the words on the page, knew and understood them, but the processing speed just want there.

I hated reading because it was hard, really, really hard. I hated writing because I felt like I had great ideas, so many aha light bulb moments in my head, but when I got them on paper they were a mess of bad handwriting. Most couldn’t read it, and when they could, the spelling was all wrong with the wrong word usage and backwards letters from time to time. It doesn’t matter what you know if you can’t get it out of your head.

In third grade, after they were able to name the disorder to my frustrations, they took my pencil! They told me I would never have good enough handwriting to use it, so they took it. They replaced it with a laptop. You need to understand that it was 1993 and computers weren’t common, laptops were unheard of, and I didn’t know how to type. The laptop created as many problems as it fixed.

The rest of my school career I battled with the frustrations of my disabilities, still do. Having a name for them didn’t make them go away. I did get my pencil back. I demanded my pencil back, and with the help of my elementary school special education teach, it was returned to me. I wanted to write. I wanted to do it the same way everyone else did, by making pretty marks with a number two pencil on a piece of notebook paper—if only so I could pass notes in class.

In sixth grade we moved to Colorado and I lost my academic lifeline, my special ed. teacher, and a school system that finally understood me. I was drowning again. The next few years of life were rough to put it lightly. I found I had a knack for trouble. I got in every kind of trouble you can imagine, and most of the time it got me kicked out of school. I didn’t care because I didn’t like school anyway. I went to six different schools in three years.

Between school five and six, I spent a few months in a juvenile corrections facility. That’s where drugs and alcohol, fighting, running away, and living a life more befitting a felon than a young teen girl will get you. I would tell you that it worked and that I straightened my life out, but it didn’t. When I got home, school five asked that my parents find somewhere else to send me. (I was obviously a joy to work with as a child)

They found school six in the next town over. School six wasn’t anything extraordinary, no cutting edge curriculum or high tech programs to help people like me. No funny metal contraptions you put your pencil in to make you hold it different (which one school did make me use and I hated). I would venture to say that when I started there half of the administration was even incredibly lackluster. What they did have was a small teaching staff that gave a damn. I wasn’t just a problem child to some of them. I was a child with a problem, and they took the opportunity to help me. The harder I pushed away, the harder they pulled back.

School was still hard, always would be for me. I give up often. When I gave up there were a few teachers around me that refused to let me quit.

At sixteen my lifestyle caught up with me again. The end of my junior year I had my daughter. That would’ve been an easy time to throw in the towel, and I actually had a principal suggest that I should. I went to talk to her about making accommodations for my finals, because that’s when my baby girl was due, and she suggested I quit and get my GED. That was exactly what I needed.

I was always a stubborn, say I can’t and I will, kinda girl. I wanted to prove her wrong, her and a whole lot of people that told me a sixteen year old girl couldn’t provide for their child and complete school. So I moved out of my parents’ house, got a job, and stayed in school. My little girl deserved a mom with an education. She shouldn’t suffer a sub-par life because of my mistake.

Of course I had some assistance in my efforts to prove those people wrong. I had those teachers, the one’s that held my hand through my pregnant junior year of high school and kept pushing me through my senior year. In 2003 I graduated with honors. A girl with a learning disability, was in special education my entire school career, sixteen and pregnant, graduated with honors. It was the middle finger to those who had told me I couldn’t.

The following semester I enrolled in college. Two years later I graduated, again with honors and as a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. (Not with a degree in any English related fields. I still hated reading.) It was a great accomplishment for me, but it was a massive struggle. There were times when I couldn’t pay my rent, times when I fed myself and my daughter at the local shelter, and got food from the giving people at the food banks. I had proven them wrong, but the life of poverty I had provided for my daughter was far from what she deserved.

By the time I was twenty and in my junior year of college, I was a single mother. I dropped out and opted for better employment and more income, and so ended my academic career.

Sitting at home one day with nothing to do, I got this crazy idea to read a book. My parents both loved reading and my mother had packed me a box of old books she thought I might like someday, if ever the day came that I chose to read without being forced.

I rummaged through and pulled out Witch of the North, by Courtway Jones. I loved it! I couldn’t put the book down. The girl who hated reading and was always the slowest reader in every class, read the novel in two days. I read the other two in the trilogy, books one and three (because I had unknowingly read book two out of order), all in the same week. When I was done I kept in that same vein of reading and picked up The Merlin Trilogy, by Mary Stewart, and that is how my love affair with books began.

My love of writing had started long before, back in grade school, well before they took my pencil. It started with my love of storytelling. After years of hard work and many dedicated teachers, I have the tools and skills to get all the crazy fantastic things out of my head and on to paper where you can read them. I love the physical act of writing. I still handwrite out all of my brainstorming sessions with my yellow number two pencil and notebook paper. I probably love it because someone once took my pencil and told me I would never be able to.

It would not be honest to say that I write with ease now and it is a happily ever after. I still struggle. I still misspell the really easy words and nail the hard ones. I google ever homophone I use just to be sure, and I still mess them up. I have to work to put the mess in my head down in a clear manner at times, and I edit, edit, and re-edit to remove the mistakes my disabilities make it easy for me to make. But I love it. I love being able to share my stories.

I have since moved from Colorado and I live a wonderful life in Oregon where I read and write every day. I also still keep in contact with some of those amazing teachers that refuse to give up on me even after I am far from the reaches of their classrooms.

I think those that know me now would tell you that the wild child bad girl of my youth is only slightly reflected in who I am now, and only in all the best ways of course. I don’t know what kind of struggles life will present me in the future, or who will stand in my way and tell me I can’t accomplish something. I can tell you, however, that anytime someone tries to take my pencil I will take it back. Anytime someone tries to take yours you should do the same. It is always worth the struggle if you want it.

As always, you can find me on Facebook and Twitter. Hit me up, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this or anything else.


May B.B. The-couldn’t-always-write, writer

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