Breath & Shadow
A Journal of Disability Culture and Literature
Breath and Shadow
Volume 14 Issue 3
is Right, Right is Left
Deficient fine-motor skills
Cramping of hand and fingers while writing for a short period of time
Mixing of upper case and lower case letters
Inconsistent form and size of letters, or incomplete letters
Inefficient speed of copying
Inattentiveness over details when writing
Difficulty with spelling and grammar
Inability to remember or follow instructions and directions
Difficulty with spatial reasoning and relative direction
Difficulty with translating ideas to
writing, sometimes using the wrong words altogether
Dysgraphia: A writing disability, where the subject’s ability to express themselves is severely impaired, transcriptionally and linguistically. The impairment is associated with deficiencies in handwriting, orthographic coding, and finger sequencing. Categorized in the DSM-IV as a written expression learning disability. Subject’s writing skills, such as legibility, grammar and spelling, are far below the expected levels given the subject’s age, intelligence, and level of education.
It’s the end of the day and I’m leaving campus. It’s raining, my feet hurt and I’m tired. I parked in a parking garage I haven’t parked in before, so I’m leaving campus in a different way. It shouldn’t be that different or even difficult. I’m taking the same basic route back home. It should be easy. I turn left onto Speedway Blvd. and head west, it’s not until I see Cherry Avenue that I realized I was actually heading east all along.
I’m confused and upset, because I knew that I was heading west. Even though I’m now aware I was going the wrong way, it doesn’t make sense to me. I know that west is the direction that I’m driving, but it’s not. It feels like the world has flipped itself just to mess with me. It’s beyond jarring. It’s more than just frustrating or upsetting. I feel like crying. I’m not sure which way is correct. I have to turn on my GPS to direct me to Oracle, because I can’t trust myself. The next day when I’m driving to school and I’m heading east on Speedway, I don’t understand how I could have been so stupid to think I was going west yesterday. It’s so obvious that I was going the wrong way. If I can’t understand how I got so mixed up, how can I expect others to understand?
Until the end of my senior year of high school, no one knew I had a learning disability. No one knew. In fact I didn’t even know that I had one. Most haven’t heard of dysgraphia, so when it comes up, I typically describe it as a lesser version of dyslexia. Even though that’s not true, it’s easier. People are more sympathetic when it comes to dyslexia, but that sympathy only goes so far when it comes to learning disabilities in general. People get tired and frustrated with the excuse of a learning disability, and don’t understanb why I can’t get pass it.
My handwriting is absolutely atrocious; it’s illegible even to me. When I write by hand, in less than three minutes, I get a sharp, sometimes unbearable, pain in my hand. My whole hand cramps up and I can’t write anymore, let alone do anything else with my hand. I have difficulty with other tasks that require me to hold an object or position my hand in any specific way for a significant amount of time. Any task that requires fine-motor skills is a lost cause: knitting, drawing, needlepoint, and even tying my shoelaces. As a child I could never tie my shoes, not properly, not the right way.
ears, Bunny ears, playing by a tree.
Again and again, people would tell me that rhyme. Again and again, people got angry at me for not getting it right. Again and again, people would get frustrated with me and eventually tire of teaching me. I learned to tie my shoes in a simpler way, the stupid way I was told by one of my young peers. There’s a good chance that I’m just stupid.
Other fine-motor skills aside, my disability really comes through with my writing. As I’ve said it’s atrocious and sloppy, deblorable really. I’ve tried to write neatly for most of my life, but to no avail. I remember my teachers from elementary and middle school scolding me and calling me after class for private talks. They told me I needed to try harder. They told me they didn’t understand how my handwriting was so bad. I was a smart girl, so why wasn’t I trying harder? They didn’t understand how my grammar and spelling could be that bad at the level I was at. They noticed the signs and sypmtoms, they commented and critiqued me, but I was never diagnosed. The answer was obvious, I was stupid and lazy. I needed to suck it up and simply work harder. Was I just stupid?
Spelling is infuriating for me and I am grateful for the existence of spellcheck, more than you can ever know. Some words I can’t figure out or even grasp how they’re spelled. It’s far worse when I misspell a word that I know. I know how to spell “Tucson.” It’s an easy word and the city I live in, yet nearly every time I write “Tuscon.” I have to consciously remind myself that the “SON” comes after “C.”
Grammar is beyond me, and for someone
my age who wants to become a writer, it’s unacceptable. I mix up
verb tenses and incorrectly use punctuation all the time. It took me
until high school to figure out the differences between “they’re,
there, and their” and honestly to this day I guess when it comes to
“affect or effect” because no matter how many times I look those
words up, I can’t seem to understand
I find myself mixing seemingly random
upper Case and Lower case letters together. Most often, I cabitalize
the First letter of random Words for No apparent Reason (Except for
Here where I did it to Illustrate my Point). I can’t tell you the
frustration, nor the shame I feel when I get someone to review my
writing. That after reviewing something I wrote again and again and
again, there’s still plenty of stupid mistakes throughout the
I made and can’t seem to correct myself. I want to be a writer more
than anything, but it’s hard to believe that’s even possible when
I mix up the lowercase letters of “p, q, b, and d” and sometimes even “c and o.” Not often, but enough times that it’s a problem. It typically happens when I write by hand, but occasionally my keydoarb mistakes d for b or is it b for d? The real problem comes in the form of “6 and 9,” especially when I’m reading those two numbers. I find it impossible to trust myself or what I see.
I remember being at the airport and I had to check my ticket a hundred times to make sure I had the right plane number, the right gate and the right time. I knew I was heading to Gate C19, I checked my ticket and the departure board so many times that I had to be going the right way. When I arrived at the gate, the plane was headed for San Francisco, not Tuscon. I’m confused because my plane was boarding in twenty minutes, and I look down at my ticket and it says Gate D16. I understand that I read the letters and numbers wrong, but it feels as if someone magically changed my ticket. I might be stupid.
My biggest fear is that I really am an idiot. It gnaws on my insides, makes me scared to try to put myself out their. I’m scared that I will be proven right. I’m scared people will see, see that I’m stupid.
I remember driving to a volunteering
event in Texas, a two-hour drive, where I had to drive perfectly. I
hate driving, especially with other people. I get nervous with other
people in the car. Nervous that I’ll make a stupid mistake, and
they’ll know what an idiot I truly am. I regret volunteering to
drive, there are four people in the car, two friends and two
acquaintances. I could feel their eyes observing me. I turn onto the
exit and blow out my tire, I went
The address is on the front door of the station, and I repeat it in my head over and over again, walking back to the car. The tow truck will need to know where we are, and I repeat the address over and over again. I arrive at the car, and Emilie asks for the address and I don’t remember. I can’t remember. It’s on the tip of my tonque. I swear I knew it five seconds ago before she asked. I can see her frustration and anger towards me for forgetting. She walks to get the address herself. I know I messed up. I want to cower away from there judgmental eyes, labeling me as the village idiot. I want to apologize. Apologize for volunteering to drive. Apologize for blowing out the tire. Apologize for forgetting the address. Apologize that they’re stuck with me. I want to say sorry to Emilie. I want her to understand that I didn’t mean to forget the address. I want everyone to understand. I don’t want to be stupid, I want to be smart. All I want is to be smart, but I’m not. I’m stupid. Stupid. Stubid. Stupid.
There is so much more to dysgraphia.
Reading a map is a tricky thing for me, I have an impossible time
remembering and following directions or instructions from memory. I
have a fallible memory when it comes to lists, especially seemingly
random numbers or letters, like phone numbers, addresses, zip codes,
and license plate numbers. Sometimes it’s impossible for me to
express my thoughts and ideas. I stare at a blank word document.
There’s so much I want to say, to write, but it’s like my hands
detached themselves from the rest of my body. I can’t get them to
type what I want to say. Sometimes I can’t even say a word, it
doesn’t matter if I know the word, it doesn’t matter how hard I
try to pronounce it, to say it. My mouth just simply can’t get
That’s the one thing all the research and data can’t tell you. It’s in the description; dysgraphia is the inability to express oneself. It’s right there, but it doesn’t even come close to what those few words actually mean. I can’t make you unberstand the difficulty I have expressing myself. I can’t express what it’s like to have thousands of ideas in my head, but I just can’t properly order them or write them down. My inability to fully express myself feeds my greatest insecurity. I want to be writer more than anything, but it’s hard to believe that can actually happen. It’s hard to believe someone so stupid, like me, could ever be much. Stupid.
I can’t tell you what it’s like for anyone else with dysgraphia, but I can summarize what it’s like for me. It’s like feeling you’re an idiot for the majority of time, even if logically you know you’re not. There’s this constant paranoia and worry that everyone thinks you’re an idiot, because you can’t do anything right. It’s frustrating because it’s all these hundred little things that add up into one huge problem, but most people don’t know what dysgraphia is like nor can they understand all the problems it causes.
People want me to just overcome it. Practice my handwriting until it’s neat. Stop making mistakes in my writing, learn to correct my own grammar. Learn the four directions, always know that left is left and right is right. They want me to pronounce any word correctly, they’ll repeat it again and again, because if they pronounce clearly enough times for me to hear, then surely I can pronounce correctly. People want me to understand the directions they give me, they want me to handle and process more than the first two steps. They want me to be smart, they want me to overcome dysgraphia. It should be easy. Why can’t I just do it? Why am I not trying hard enough? Why do I keep using this pathetic excuse? Why am I so stupid?
I am walking to my class in the Harvill building from the Second Street Garage. The map, which I find myself checking constantly for the first few weeks on campus, tells me the building is left of the garage. I know that it’s left, but I walk right, because right is left at the moment. I’m not sure why or how, but it just is. Right is left as much as left is left. I don’t find the building, because I’m going the wrong direction, but I don’t know that. I think I’m on the wrong street, so I go up a street and I still can’t find the building. Eventually after thirty minutes of walking around in hundred-degree weather, I find the building and I’m fifteen minutes late. I tell the teacher that traffic on Oracle was bad and that’s why I’m late. I don’t mean to lie, but honestly who would believe the excuse that I thought right was left. How could anyone not know left from right?
How could anyone be so fucking stupid?
Emma is a 24-year-old, currently living in Tucson, Arizona although she is originally from New Jersey. She is working to get her Bachelor’s Degree in Film & Television at the University of Arizona. As she wishes to pursue a career in the production and development of television shows, she hopes to include more diverse and inclusive representation in animated shows directed at children.