When your parents are not nurturing it just feels wrong.

Really wrong.

Like: what does that say about you?  The person they were supposed to nurture?

The truth is it says nothing about you.

The first time she was abused she was four. 

I’m listening to a friend speak truth in my backyard.  I sit outside every single day.  I watch the birds and plants and (if I’m being honest) my laundry drying.  It’s such a satisfying task, hanging laundry up to dry.  I watch the water drip off my clothes and think about how many millions of humans have hung clothes to dry over the centuries. 

Laundry is a human experience with diachronic depth. 

I listen to my friend and I want to hug them.  Four.  Their mother was four.  She was four when people started hurting her.  And then later she hurt other people, including you, my friend.  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry for your inheritance of pain.  That is a return to store inheritance.  That is a fuck-that-while-throwing-your-hands-up kind of inheritance. 

If that inheritance was a ripe nectarine lying on the table I would give my cat full permission to knock that shit onto the floor. 

When I was outside this morning I noticed the seasons are changing.  Four.  There are four seasons.   I’m doing Volume Four of Truer Words because if I do then I have forty cards, yes, 40, and that is immensely meaningful to me. 

Forty is enough cards for a teacher to do one card a week for the entire school year.  

Actually, since a school year is roughly 36 weeks, a teacher could do one card a week and even have….four left over. 

When my graphic designer/illustrator/creative midwife sent me our contract for Volume 4 she left a note in the bottom corner:

PS: In Western culture there are four seasons, four winds, four cardinal directions, four elements…In Hindu culture there are four tattavs: animal, mineral, vegetable, mind. Four is totality: plentitude, perfection.

The number of tattavs, or truths, is actually completely dependent on the particular spiritual tradition counting them.  My spiritual tradition has five.  My spiritual tradition that I joined four years ago today, because turns out everything is connected and meaningful and now we have Facebook memories to both remind us of that and further cloak everything.  AWESOME.  How is spiritual life going?  It’s going fine.  Yep.  Just over here trying to dig a tunnel with a needle, usually while muttering four letter words. 

My teacher has said that if you think about the meaningful thing you want to attain as a mango, but then you go to him and ask him for one of his mangos, he’s going to hand you a seed and a shovel and tell you to start digging. You are likely to be real confused at first, all “but where is my mango?” 

We are conditioned to think we deserve things or that working to obtain them means they are in sight the whole time.  That viewpoint is demonstrably false.

Seeds go into the dirt.    

The task is to go get dirty seeking truth. Go put in the work.  You aren’t going to get a mango today.  You are going to start digging a hole today.  You might still be digging four years from now, trying to make the best place for your tiny little seed to grow. You probably won’t even have a mango seedling four years later but at least you are trying.

In November I will have made some more seeds, enough for an entire school year. 

I’m going to try to not be attached to if they grow.  Making the drafts this time, the amount of creative energy involved, wow.  I think I cried at least four times.  It took so much out of me and I wondered more than once why I was even bothering at all. 

But I know why I am bothering.  I am bothering because this work matters especially when it is hard.  This month marks four years for me as a one woman small business. 

Four years of trying to plant seeds and keep them alive.

Four years of finding my own way, always with the help of generous friends.

Four years of contemplating my own inheritance of pain, of seeing schools do to my kids what they did to me, and trying desperately to process that pain with them before they too have to pass it on.

Four years of digging.

All I can do is continue to dig.  And pray.  And then dig some more.

Conversation Vector

Coach Travis likes to talk about force, catch wrestling, how there-are-no-white-belt-moves-or-black-belt-moves-there-are-just-moves, and the importance of living in your exhale.

One day in class he gestures with his fingers as he describes different types of force in jiu jitsu.  I listen. Coach Travis talks about physical force, the kind applied by your muscles, momentum, and gravity.  Understanding how to navigate and apply these forces will help your jiu jitsu.  I think about how it’d be nice to have a better understanding of force.  I know that would help my jiu jitsu. I’ve noticed people who have a lot of jiu jitsu talk about their jiu jitsu like a precious thing they must keep safe and fed. 

My jiu jitsu is hungry.

My mind also pings on the word gravity.  I put gravity in Volume 3.  It’s the last card.  The denotation of the bound base <grave> is “heavy,” and the same base shows up in words like aggravated and gravitate.  The word grief is a French cousin.

I’m putting that down as proof that truth is both beautiful and heavy.

Force represents as a vector, which means it has magnitude and direction at the same time.  The word wrestle is related to the word conversation.  And words, Douglas says, often have a certain gravity.  You see words cluster, bump into each other, share an orbit.  They carry force.

Professor Bill, the head instructor where I practice jiu jitsu, has an enormous amount of jiu jitsu.  He says that doing jiu jitsu is like having a conversation. 

In the beginning you are an infant with no speech just trying not to die.  You can’t say much with your jiu jitsu when you are really new except please-don’t-hurt-me-I-have-no-idea-what-I-am-doing or sometimes HEY LOOK AT ME I’M ROLLING ABOUT HAHAHA AM I DOING IT?!  People see you are a baby and they help you, because in the dōjō you are really just playing with friends. 

Maybe if you take good care of your jiu jitsu then later you will be able to say something people will want to listen to. 

Conversation entered our written record in the mid 14th century but it didn’t mean “informal exchange of thoughts by spoken words” until the 1570s.  Etymonline tells us that before the 1570s conversation meant, “place where one lives or dwells” and also, “general course of actions or habits, manner of conducting oneself in the word.” 

Turns out the way you talk comes from the way you walk and where you choose to sit.  That’s how come you can have an entire conversation with someone without uttering a single word aloud. 

Sex is a conversation, by the way, especially etymologically. 

The elemental structure of conversation denotes a turning together.  That <verse> base element shows up in words like universe, anniversary, version and subversive and lends an inherent sense of turn.  The word wrestle comes from the same Proto-Indo European root as conversation, but the best part is that the <wr> grapheme in wrestle, “typically pertains to turning or twisting, and bears an etymological relationship to the Latinate twin base element[s] <vert>~<verse>.” (LEX Grapheme Deck, 3rd Edition)

Once Coach Travis showed a move in class, saw my eyes get wide, grinned, and said, “I know, it’s just wrong.”  He has a wry sense of humor and is a huge fan of wrist locks. 

Another time he said that wrestling is older than yoga and I disagreed.

Everyone wants to believe their thing is the Original Thing™.  Lord knows I sure do.

But it’s hard to argue that people have been trying to discover the path to enlightenment longer than they’ve been trying to kill each other.  Especially when nearly every human culture has some kind of folk wrestling tradition.  Needing to survive long enough to ponder the reason(s) you exist is a thing.

If you are lucky you will survive because your teachers reach out their hands to you and help you up.  If you are really extremely lucky you will survive long enough to write prose about trying to understand all the twists and turns.

And if you are the most lucky person ever you will get to have on going conversations with other humans, conversations about force, conversations about humanity, conversations on vectors with their own unique magnitude and direction.


She walks in and throws up her hands in a gesture of frustration. 

“Now we are doing circle stuff, like area.  There’s this thing he kept talking about today in class, like…it’s in the circle, it’s like…important in the circle.”  She puts her head in her hands.  She sighs. 

She explains she doesn’t even know what it is but in any case she doesn’t get it.  Apologizes to me for “doing a bad job of explaining.”  Oh sweet baby girl.  It’s not your job to teach yourself no matter what they tell you.   

There’s a thing and it’s important in the circle.  Let me tell you something right now. Very few people or actually no one will remember all the content but she’ll never forget how you made her feel in class today.  Do you want to know how you made her feel in class today?  You made her feel head in hands.  She’s so little still.  Why are you making her feel head in hands?  Last week you asked them to solve variable proportions and to derive linear equations from graphs.  At the same time.  For reasons that remain unclear but are likely connected to either your total inability to understand how math works or the fact that you like to torture children, IDK which man and I’m tired of both emailing you and guessing. 

I’m not here to judge you but I do have to clean up your mess every week so don’t hate me for speculating. 

First I will make you a cup of tea, child, and then I will start at the beginning.  It’s not your job to remember all these things.  It’s your job to think. Learning does not go in a straight line.  You probably won’t remember everything I am about to tell you.  We’ll need to circle back to this circle stuff.  That is normal and okay.

The origin of a circle is called the center.  It’s supposed to be marked and labeled as a point but they don’t always do that.  They aka the People In Charge of Things.  The people in charge of things you have to put up with starting from now until you die. These things range from this stupid math curriculum to what you are legally allowed to do with your own female body. 

I don’t say the last part but I think it.  I think about that last part a lot as I watch my girls turn into women before my eyes.  Everyone says it happens so fast. Everyone is right.

Once you understand that every circle has a center you can feel grounded in the next term, which you absolutely must have your picture for.  The next term is “radius.”

I say “radius” and her eyes light up.  YES EMILY.  YES.  THAT’S THE THING THAT’S IMPORTANT IN THE CIRLCE.  I laugh.  Okay so but like what does radius mean, though, young woman?

Because you are only going to be able to work with something if you know what it means.  What do you notice about the spelling?  Do you see anything at all?  Take your time.  We are not in a hurry. 

She notices there’s probably not a prefix.  Well done.  She knows every word in English either has a base or is a base so that’s also helpful to verbalize, which brings her to the suffix.  Is there a suffix?  She thinks there might be, and I can tell she is already noticing that if there is an analyzable suffix in the construction “radius” it’s non-productive, meaning we can see the Latinate bones and we can analyze them but no native English speaker is going to be able to form a new lexical item from them. 

Sometimes all you can do is look at the bones.

I congratulate her for being both a scholar and a lady.  She beams. 

She’s noticing that <us> in radius for a really good reason.  She can see the bones.  This kid spots the default Latinate connecting vowel letter faster than I can put on pants, and once you notice something true it starts to stand out.  I explain that there is a classical <us> suffix, just like there’s a classical <um> suffix. 

We haven’t even looked it up yet.  For whatever reason we’re both in the mood to savor just sitting with this word for a moment.  No reason to rush off right away.  I’m not here to pound terminology in.  If I can get her to make a picture for this word she’ll be in business and that my friends is the goal.   

Get your picture first.  Just like when they tell you on the airplane to put on your own oxygen mask first before assisting other passengers.  You’re of no use to anyone if you are trying to do a thing while suffocating. 

Breathe first, do second.

By the time we get to Douglas she is ready to notice more things.  She zeros in on the Latin.  It’s the same as the English, she says smugly.  Yes my dear.  It’s the same.  Isn’t that lovely?  We’ve seen this before: often math and science words are just plucked from Latin, gliding into English unchanged.  That’s why you are seeing that <us> suffix.  You’re so smart.  How did you get to be so smart?  You are the smartest girl.

She jumps up and writes “radius” on the board, next to my drawing of a circle with a clear center point.  She loves writing on the board. 

Let’s talk about what this word meant in Latin before we talk about what it means in English.  I don’t always go this direction when it comes to meaning, from Latin to English, but with this kid and these terms sometimes it helps.  The way it was used in Latin will inform how we understand it in English, especially in this context.  She comes back around to me so I can show her on Etymonline that in Latin the word radius meant, “staff, stake, rod; spoke of a wheel; ray of light, beam of light; radius of a circle.”

I get up and go up to the board without a word.  I gesture for her to watch.  I take a red pen and dramatically place the pen on the center of the circle like I am throwing a dart.  Now watch, I say, even though I don’t need to say that because she is a 1,000% with me.  I draw a firm, straight red line from the center of the circle outward to the circumference.

She smiles.

The radius radiates out from the center, my friend.  It’s an old old old word that has a collection of senses, but the mathematical sense has been with us for a very long time and for good reason.  It makes sense. 

We find a whole collection of words from the Latin radius, words like radiate, radium, radiation, radial, radio and ray.  I do a small yelp of pleasure when we find ray, with its evolutive derivation through French from the same Latin etymon.  Radius and ray, a pair of lexical doublets.  Woulda look at that.

Later I find the word radiolarian, which seems to be the scientific name for a type of tiny single-celled aquatic organisms.  Their spherical bodies seem to have spikes radiating outward; I spend far too long looking at the black and white images on Google.   

Days pass and I find myself in a jiu-jitsu class.  It’s my third class.  I’m fully getting my ass handed to me.  I have no idea what I’m doing and to make matters worse people are trying to choke me, which frankly feels remarkably like trying to run a one woman small business trying to help the dyslexics, so while I am deeply uncomfortable I also feel oddly at home. 

At least people are up front at jiu-jitsu.  In the rest of my waking life sometimes you don’t even know you are being choked until it’s too late.  At least at jiu-jitsu you can usually see it coming.

The thing about the radius is that it’s also a bone.  It’s one of the two bones in your forearm.  I realize in class that because I understand what radius means I thus understand what the radius does.  It rotates the forearm from the elbow joint.  Your job in jiu-jitsu is to neutralize and then control the movement of your opponent. 

I realize in class this is most effective if you understand where movement originates in the body. 

We are working on immobilizing the radius because if you do that then the forearm of your opponent cannot be used as a staff or rod against you any longer.  Pin their radius, control their light.  Learn words, understand life.  Breathe.  Learn alongside children.  Focus on truth.

Most of all?  Circle back.    


“Is there a word for when a person thinks they are a dog?”

I had asked if there was anything she wanted to share about school.  There was something she wanted to share.  She wanted to share about a girl in her class who believes she is a dog.

 One of the things I love most about children is their desire to understand, to name, to make sense of the world.  Hey-is-there-a-word-for-this is such a human experience. 

Language is human.

I told her I had honestly no idea but that we could look it up?

She clapped her hands together excitedly.

We started our search with Google, of course.  No shame in using a noun so powerful it verbed itself.  Hold on let me google it!  She googled it.  OMG did you even google it?!

I typed in is-there-a-word-for-when-a-person-thinks-they-are-a-dog.  Google told us in less than a second that there’s totally a word.  The word is lycanthropy, a noun defined as, “the supernatural transformation of a person into a wolf, as recounted in folk tales” but also as, “a rare psychological disorder in which a person thinks they are an animal, usually a wolf, or that they can transform into an animal, also usually a wolf.” 

We hit the voice to text button so we could listen to a pronunciation of “lycanthropy” a few times.  Note I did not say the pronunciation. My dyslexic ass has still (despite repeated intervention) not yet mastered her phonology so voice to text is thumbs up. 

I noticed the medial <y> in the spelling and immediately thought, “Hellenic?”  I turned to my study partner and said, “Well, would you look at that.  The word is lycanthropy.  And how interesting that the girl in your class believes she is a dog.  Because a dog is not that far away from a wolf.”

My study partner considered our discoveries.  She wanted to know if Douglas had an entry for lycanthropy.  Turns out he totally does.  And his entry for werewolf?  Mind blowing. There is a secret link in that one.  I love his secret links. Go find a secret link I dare you.

Etymonline helped us understand that the word lycanthropy is not new.  In fact it is an old idea, this transformation of human into wolf, and we see the mark of ancient human experience in its spelling.  The <y> does mark a Hellenic element.  Lovely.

Apparently the Greeks were writing about wolf-men thousands of years ago.

Lycanthropy is a compound. The first base element derives from the Greek lykos “wolf.” I found myself circling back to this etymon by myself, later. I found words that I’d never heard of before, like Lycoperdon (a kind of mushroom), lyceum, and alyssum. That last one is a “perhaps” and then a “probably” from Douglas, a move I always interpret as him grumbling, “well if you are going to take that first intellectual jump you might as well take the second.”

“Wow,” said my study partner.  “The girl in my class who believes she is a dog barks at squirrels on the trees outside during class, and she also rolls on the ground sometimes.  This week she came to me crying at recess because some other kids told her to stop pretending to be a dog. She said to me that she’s not pretending to be a dog she’s PRETENDING TO BE A HUMAN.”

These are the exact moments in session I want a fucking guidebook for, okay?  Like can there be a guidebook for working with kids that has a whole chapter devoted to “Exactly What To Say and Do When One of Your Kids Shares About A Self-Identified Wolf-Girl in Her Class at School and You Find Out That Might Actually Be a Thing Because It’s Been Written About For Over 2,500 Years And You Are Lowkey Freaking Out.”

There’s no pre-made guidebook but y’all already knew that, didn’t you?

There’s no pre-made guidebook but there is the guidebook you make yourself with your own hands and heart and brain.  You have to make it carefully one page at a time, and you have to go back all the time and update it.  You have to update it more than your goddamn iPhone.

My guidebook now says this in really big shouty all caps:

Don’t dismiss the experiences of children just because they don’t make sense.  Life doesn’t make sense.  Listen to children and study with them, follow their lead but offer your own grounded understanding of what you know to be true.  Most of all keep learning and don’t ever think you know everything because you don’t.

After my study partner left I kept thinking about that word.  I murmured “lycanthropy” and felt the points of stress beat like heartbeats.  I kept studying, kept thinking, kept circling back.  

There’s some connection here, or some confusion here, between wolves and light. But think about it: full moon. Lunar/lunatic. Lycanthropy is a kind of madness; werewolves are bound to their transformation during the full moon in particular. I could keep going but you can also look things up and connect the dots. There’s a lot of them scattered here like stars.

There used to be a Greek word, lyke, which meant light.

I found a Greek myth about Lycaon, the son of Pelasgos, who angered the god Zeus when he offered him human flesh. As punishment, Zeus turned Lycaon and his sons into wolves. 

I read parts of the Icelandic Volsungs Saga.  Wolves show up throughout that Saga, but one example is a father and son discovering wolf pelts that have the ability to transform them into wolves when worn. 

There’s also the whole entire concept (and cult obsession) of werewolves, which pretty much fits right in with this.  Plus in Old English wulf forms compounds in names. 

Think Beowulf. 

It’s a full moon at 5:11 today. 

Feelin cute, might go howl at it.


Gina took us to France in 2017.

Last weekend was the 7th Etymology conference.

The word <convent> has seven letters.  It’s related to the word <coven>. 

And the seventh letter of the English alphabet? 

That would be <g>.

 As in <ghost>.

Let me take you on an adventure. 

The moment I walked into that big old house I knew it was haunted.  I extra knew it was haunted when I tried to turn on my bedside lamp at 2 a.m. after traveling all day and blew the fuse for all the lights on our floor.  

Gina and I went down into the basement in complete darkness to find the breaker. We were lowkey terrified but strong, independent women who get shit done are used to navigating terror.  The key is to put your fear aside and go down into the scary haunted basement anyway. 

Feel free to use that as a metaphor because it totally is. 

The etymology of <ghost> is beautiful.  Our present day form comes from the Old English gast which meant, “breath; good or bad spirit, angel, demon; person, man, human being.”  If you go to Douglas, which you really should because he’s brilliant, he will tell you that in Christian writing done in Old English the word ghost was used in place of the Latin spiritus.  You can still see an echo of that in the construction Holy Ghost.  The <a> in the Old English form gast makes complete sense to me now, probably because I just spent three days studying things like how a long <a> in an Old English form generally yields a long <o> in a Middle English form. 

The <h> in our PDE <ghost> was slowly breathed in by humans who were busy hustling print.  Their native Flemish gheest still haunts our spelling in the same way that several ghosts are still playing pool in the billiards room of the Dayton Masonic Center.   Sometimes there’s not a clear reason why things stick around. 

They just do. 

That first night, after the scary trip down to the extremely creepy basement, I was almost asleep when I felt a distinct pressure on my forearm.  I was wide-awake in seconds.  It’s okay it’s okay you are safe you are safe you are safe I thought to myself.  I lay there in the darkness reminding myself ghosts can scare you but they can’t hurt you and waited for sleep to drag me back under.  I was just slipping into the dream world again when I heard and felt a long, deep sigh.  It sounded wistful, like an exhausted person remembering the feeling of falling sleep.

I woke up thinking about my dreams, which were dark and scattered and full of ghosts, bits and pieces of my consciousness scattered around my brain like driftwood flung up on a beach.  Of course the word <ghost> came up during the weekend, mostly because there are no coincidences but also because it’s such a rich word to study.  I’d looked at the entry for <ghost> before but every time I circle back I notice different things. 

That’s how scholarship works folks.  You notice what you are ready to notice. 

Learning does not go in a straight line.  Learning cycles.  Put that word on a cyclamen and study it my fellow word nerds.  You won’t be disappointed. 

It wasn’t until the morning after a ghost sighed in my ear that I realized the Latin spiritus and the Old English gast share a meaningful connection to breath.  The words are distinct but they both carry an inherent, historical sense of breath.  After all breath is the thing that animates, that governs the moment of transition between the realms of the living and the dead.

It made me think about breath as an echo of life and ghosts as an echo of lives lived.   

Maybe ghosts are just a collection of complicated exhales, extra inspiration that your soul can’t carry on and that your body is no longer able to sustain.  A thing left over, like the old battered doors and broken furniture and dusty boxes lying forgotten in a basement. 

Just an echo, like the way footprints are echoes of steps.         

The 7th card in Truer Words Volume 3 is fate.

That word comes to us from Old French by way of Latin.  Of course it carried the sense of a person’s destiny, literally what had been spoken by the Gods, but it also had the sense of “one’s guiding spirit.”  Like your fairy Godmother, the force responsible for making sure you don’t make a mess of the threads connecting you to this life.  The women who are responsible for weaving you into a tidy existence before snipping you back into the spirit world. 

The last day of Etymology we looked at Douglas’s entry for “text.”  It was another entry I’ve looked at multiple times—it’s one of the words on the bonsai in Truer Words Volume 2—but somehow I had no memory of the quote Douglas offers in his entry. 

An ancient metaphor: thought is a thread, and the raconteur is a spinner of yarns—but the true storyteller, the poet, is a weaver.  The scribes made this old and audible abstraction into a new and visible fact.  After long practice, their work took on such an even, flexible texture that they called the written page a textus, which means cloth.

Robert Bringhurst, “The Elements of Typographic Style” via Etymonline  

Our individual threads are only so long but human life gives us the opportunity to weave them into text.  The fates may govern our expiration but study affords us the opportunity to make something meaningful together while we are still breathing. 

When you understand the deeper connections and broader patterns in our written language you secure an invitation out of the house of disembodied sounds.  The house of disembodied sounds is a ghost house.  The shiny packages of phonics are like bodies made up by funeral directors: they may pass for the living on the outside but they are dead as doornails on the inside.  Those bodies are designed to reassure you that death isn’t messy. 

Don’t kid yourself honey it’s just as messy as birth.

Don’t deny your own humanity because you feel more comfortable with carefully designed packaging.  Put the body of your loved one on the dining room table. Study it. Understand soon it will be your body.  Care for others like it is your last act of service because it might be. 

Teach children the truth.  

Get rid of all those boxes of lie binders down in your dark basement.  Listen to the ghosts sigh but know they have no real earthly power.  Put down your suitcases full of heavy lies.  Life is light and breath and connection, not phonograms and nonsense words.  Those things are dead.  Real study is alive and full of friends.    

You are the architect of your own life.  What is it you want to weave?  And how long are you going to wait before you start?    

conte de feés

Sometimes you have to break the world with words.

I didn’t say that.  Lidia did. 

Once upon a time there was a little girl who was a witch.  The little girl was born to a family of witches whose magic was deep and strong.  They named her Rowan for her rosy cheeks.

The family of witches lived in a village.  The village had a school for children.  All the children in the village, even the witch children, had to go to school when they turned five.  As Rowan grew her parents noticed her magic was different.  At three she could walk between the realms of the living and the dead but couldn’t correctly pronounce the word “year.”  Rowan’s mother assumed maybe she was just a late bloomer. 

Soon Rowan is six years old and in first grade.  It is expected that she go to school every day.  No one knows that Rowan is afraid of the books in school.  Specifically she’s afraid of the words in the books.  She’s also really extremely afraid of the face her teacher makes every time she tries to correctly pronounce the words in books.   

Even worse is when Rowan tries to spell, because she absolutely cannot and no one at school can teach her that magic.  The magic of spells and spelling does not fit into the school’s scope and sequence.   

Rowan hates school but she hides that fact like a good girl.  Sometimes she pretends to be a unicorn at recess.  The other kids think she’s weird. They are right.

Every morning Rowan’s teacher hands out sheets of white paper covered in black swiggles.  Rowan slowly crushes the worksheets into tight balls under her desk.  Crushing paper makes her feel better.  Afterwards she carefully puts the balls of paper inside her desk for safekeeping because it seems like paper is of immense value at school.   She thinks about how there’s no possible way the crushed paper balls are going to help her learn how to cast spells.

At least not the kind she’s interested in. 

Rowan wants to understand spellings like autonomy and interdenominational and subtraction.  She doesn’t understand the vast majority of what seems easy to other children, like long division and geography and Writing A Perfect Five Paragraph Essay

Rowan has a lot of questions that no one is interested in answering.  Her questions begin in her head and then spiral down her spine. 

The unanswered questions throb inside her like heartbeats.

Eventually Rowan goes deep inside herself, into her lumbar spine, and stores her magic there because she doesn’t know how to use it yet.   All she knows for sure is that schools are not going to help her.

 Year after year Rowan holds her magic deep in her spine.  She feels shame for holding something as precious as her magic so deep inside herself but she doesn’t know what else to do.  She does her best.

Then one day Rowan sees a post on Facebook.  She follows the post to a website, and then to a store.  Inside the store there are classes for sale taught by a wise woman.  There is even a class called “How to Use Your Magic.”  When she reads about the class Rowan feels her magic, long stored at the base of her spine, begin to stir.  Rowan signs up for the class.

On the last day of the class Rowan is the only student.  All the other students are busy or forgot or have already made up their minds about their magic, which is to Rowan’s advantage because now she can talk to the wise woman alone. Rowan asks the wise woman all kinds of questions about words, spells, and spellings.

The wise woman is patient.  She listens carefully to everything Rowan asks, and then she says, “stories are made of words but every word has a story.  Now is the time for you to use your magic to understand the stories of words so that you may weave your own stories.  If you promise to be honest and think for yourself I will be your guide.  I can see the magic in you.  It’s time for you to learn how to use it.”

At the wise woman’s words Rowan felt the deep pressure of her magic begin to release from her spine.  She sighed.  And then she rolled up her sleeves and got to work.


I’ve been studying a word family that denotes “stretch.”  I’ve also been thinking a whole hell of a lot about friendship, writing and time.

It’s partly that goddamn calendar in my office again.  I can’t decide if I’m crazy or if my calendar is psychic.  It’s probably the first thing.

The word for February is “attend.”  Even before I turned the page to this month and noted the word that <tend> base element was already stretching itself into my subconscious.   

The base <tend> yields words like tendency and tendon and attendance.  You may not intend to cause harm but everyone still does anyway.  How might you cause less harm?  One way is to pay attention.  Another is to notice your tendencies.     

The larger word family of that base includes words like tension and intensify, maintain and tenacity, but also extemporaneous, which is a word one of my kids asked me about recently. 

It’s always a good sign when your kids bring you words to study that you don’t even know.  It’s my job to put myself out of a job and somehow seeing kids collect words like “extemporaneous” reassures me, like I’m somehow doing okay at these things that I set out to do, like teaching dyslexics how to do things and being an honest friend.

Extemporaneous denotes, basically, outside of time.  It’s actually an example of a compressed Latin phrase, ex tempore, which in Latin described things done in an offhand fashion, at that very moment, without taking a stretch of time to prepare. 

When I was studying extemporaneous with my kid we stumbled across the word “tempest,” which surprised us both.   What does a violent storm have to do with time?

Storms are temporary.  If something exists here, in the temporal realm, it’s only here for a stretch of time.  Everything on this temporal plane is, as my teacher says, here today and gone tomorrow.  

Even you.

And all of your contemporaries. 

And every tendril currently stretching tenderly up towards the sun.   We’re here to grow, folks.  Once we’re done growing our temporal existence is over. 

You can pretend that’s not how it works.

But it is.

This morning another student of mine and I continued our study of Charlotte’s Web.  It’s one of my all time favorite books to study with children.  There is so much there: life, death, and a great deal of stretching.

Do you want to know how Charlotte (a spider) saves Wilbur (a pig)? 

 Day after day the spider waited, head-down, for an idea to come to her.  Hour by hour she sat motionless, deep in thought.  Having promised Wilbur that she would save his life, she was determined to keep her promise.

Charlotte was naturally patient.  She knew from experience that if she waited long enough, a fly would come to her web; and she felt sure that if she thought long enough about Wilbur’s problem, an idea would come to her mind.

Finally, one morning toward the middle of July, the idea came.  “Why, how perfectly simple!” she said to herself.  “The way to save Wilbur’s life is to play a trick on Zuckerman.  If I can fool a bug,” thought Charlotte, “I can surely fool a man.  People are not as smart as bugs.”

Charlotte’s Web, pg. 67 

She saves him by writing, which is a bit of a stretch for her because she cannot spell super well.  Being a spider and all. 

Charlotte knows she doesn’t have very much time but she’s not afraid of death.   She sees no reason not to do as much as she can while she is here and so she stretches herself across her web again and again, dancing out messages in spider silk in order to save her friend.

And so it is that the large grey barn spider saves the pig even though she knows she cannot save herself.  She is not afforded the same about of time in her life cycle and she knows it.  She’s incredibly brave up to the very end, and yes, every single time I finish this book with kids I cry.  I can’t help it.  

Wilbur never forgot Charlotte.  Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart.  She was in a class by herself.  It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.  Charlotte was both.

Charlotte’s Web, pg. 184


Yesterday a smart word nerd friend of mine posted an article from the New York Times about Old English kennings and how we don’t have them anymore in Modern English and how that’s sad. 

Specifically the author of the article, Josephine Livingstone, asserted, “We who speak contemporary English are so reliant on word order that we are no longer as able as our forebears to create lyrical, associative, figurative meaning in poetry. We just can’t do the same things with our vocabulary. Old English speakers can treat metaphor as an occasion to innovate; Modern English simply tries to describe. Their poetry can turn skeletons into exploding nation-states; we have to focus on keeping our adjectives in the right places. But to our immense good fortune, Old English poetry has survived, and we know how to read it. The kennings are out there waiting for you — so beautiful, so different and so very, very old.”


Sometimes I wish I knew in advance what my brain was going to decide to become obsessed with so I could, like, plan for that in my day.  Dedicate time.  Rearrange schedules.  Carve out space. 

Creativity and time aren’t linear.  Happy New Year?  According to whom?  Thank God for calendars but they’re completely artificial.  Who decided January 1st is the beginning?  Who decided there’s even a beginning at all?    

Time is cyclical just like nature, your life, all learning, every creative endeavor humans have ever pursued and—oh yeah—love.  Things come and go, ebb and flow, feel fast then feel slow, seem easy and then are suddenly the hardest thing you’ve ever done except absolutes are dumb because keep trying long enough and you’ll need the superlative again.  I promise.

Have you noticed our tendency to romanticize the past or is it just me?  Old English kennings are freaking cool don’t get me wrong.  But they actually haven’t left the English language, not even close, and how rude to assert that Modern English only describes rather than innovates.  We haven’t lost anything.  There’s nothing to mourn.   No need to light your bonehouse on fire quite yet friends.  We good.

Just because you aren’t aware of something doesn’t mean it isn’t there.    

I found Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water in my little sister’s bedroom one day in late summer years ago.  My sister had just left for the University of Wisconsin on a swimming scholarship; I have a habit of trying to understand why people leave by looking at what they leave behind. 

The book was on her bedside table and it completely changed my life. 

Lidia Yuknavitch burned my bonehouse to the ground with her words and wasn’t even sorry about it.  Lidia Yuknavitch doesn’t give two shits about correctness and her book was like a giant FUCK YOU LOOK AT MY ART NO LOOK AT IT.  Her words have always been magic to me.  Her songstory is completely her own and it breaks all the rules and thankfuckingGOD for that because angry women don’t scare me. 

Songstory is a kenning and it’s not mine.  That’s all Lidia.  Homegirl creates kennings and nests noun after noun after noun in noun phrases and uses nouns to modify other nouns like she’s pouring gasoline on your languagebonehouse with one hand and lighting a match with the other.  She don’t give a fucc about your rules but you better believe she know all of them. 

That’s how come she can break them so easy while also taking your breath away.  I think homegirl break rules like some people eat breakfast. 

My favorite kenning in The Chronology of Water is boyfish.  It’s just as powerful as anything Beowulf came up with and homies she published her memoir in 2010.  Anyone who thinks Modern English doesn’t still accommodate kennings just hasn’t gotten soaked with one of hers yet:

“And each night Andy would put his hands on the mound of me and whisper secrets to the little boyfish refusing any narrative but his own…every night our bodies making a songstory bigger than the lives we came from.”

“Weren’t you getting a little cocky about it too, your beautiful recovery, your distancing yourself from yourselfstory.”

“But my Miles—there was a deathmother, and there was his life.”

There are more, so many more, but they’re like pomegranate seeds: they taste better if you have to work a little to find them.  Go peel the cover off something and find some jewels.  I dare you. 

And for the love of God stop saying that we’ve lost something that’s been right there all along, under the skinsurface of you and our shared languageriver. 

Language is fullness.  You can take all you want from fullness but fullness still remains, pulsing in your blood, flowing in your veins, ready to bleed the songstory of you out onto the page.

City of Light

Three things that are true in this moment:

1) it is very dark and very windy outside

2) this time last year I was in France        

3) I have been thinking about light

My house gets very good light.  The light in my house changes throughout the day, as I suppose it does it your house, too, but in my house the process of illumination feels meaningful.  Morning light is best enjoyed in the kitchen.  In the evening the sun beams into my bedroom and dances on the walls.   If you want to catch the sunset step out onto my covered porch. 

Between 11-12:30 pm my tiny dining room has a very pleasant glow.

I decided to teach my Truer Words class in my dining room at my dining room table.  I wanted optimal light.  I used my husband’s computer because mine has started crashing randomly; one second my screen is lit up and the next second it’s black. 

I should really back everything up but I put it off.  I refuse to consider the suddenly black screen as my computer’s own personal memento mori.

In Truer Words volume two I put the word “memento” on a sunflower for a few reasons.  The word that card strives to illuminate is “museum.”  The Muses hung out with Apollo, right?  He’s the god of sun and light in Greek mythology.  If you wanna shine you gotta get with him.  

There’s a rather dashing white marble bust of Apollo in my mentor’s attic.  I’ve seen the light more times than I care to admit in that attic.  In fact I’ve seen it so brightly at times that I’ve been temporality blinded by tears.  

No one said light was always pleasant. I mean look at Lucifer. Carrying light doesn’t always work out but that’s no excuse not to try.

Last year at this time I flew into Paris.  Paris, France, the City of Light.  It was a long dark flight that I did alone.  It was followed by some of the worst jet lag I’ve ever had plus three nights in a real weird airbnb that turned out to be in a somewhat sketchy part of town.   “Maybe don’t go over to those streets right there, especially not at night,” said my taxi driver, as I stared out the window in a total daze. 

Thank God everything looks better in the morning light. 

I went to visit my mentor in November, a month with a name that bears a historical relationship with the word nine.  There are nine Muses that embody the arts, and the denotation of the bound base <techn> is “art, craft, skill.” 

I know that seems random but it’s not.  Remember my class?  The one I wanted the best possible light for?  Yeah.  The card we spent the most time studying was the “technology” card.  Man some faces really lit up during my class you guys.  It was pure joy to see raised eyebrows and smiles and laughs and nods.   

Technology is what allowed me to become a word nerd.  It’s what connected me with not only my teachers and these teachings but a community of scholars scattered all across our world the same way stars litter our night sky.  

Technology is also what allowed me to record my class for a couple people who had things come up.  Things like horrible wildfire smoke and illness and time zones.  I figured I needed to actually see if the technology worked before emailing the recording out, and since I didn’t have immediate plans I ended up watching myself talk about my cards right after I finished teaching, while my husband and father-in-law fixed two of our lights.   

When you can see and understand real and lasting structures it all becomes connected.  You start to see the world as one big interconnected turning wheel of light aglow with meaning.

You see yourself as a spark.   You feel small in the beginning and mostly just pray to not be blown out. Then later you pray to find other sparks.  And finally you pray for the kind of knowledge that will ultimately illuminate your heart. 

Because that, my friend, is how to become a luminary.


My husband is in printing.  When we met 13 years ago he was running a press at night but now he’s in charge of a department at a local family owned print shop. 

Any job that a client wants mailed goes through his department.   He corresponds with the Post Office at regular intervals, at least weekly but often more.  The intersection between printing work for clients and then making sure that work gets mailed out on time can be sticky.  Like the time a few years ago when it was a Friday and I had just picked him up from work and he got a call that a 17,000 piece mailing job that had to post that day had just been rejected because the letters were facing the wrong way in the letter trays. 

I helped turn some around once we intersected the backwards mail.  Somehow the job still got out on time.

Patience comes into English from the Old French pacience, “patience, sufferance, permission” which is from a Latin adjective patientem which meant, “bearing, supporting; suffering, enduring, permitting; tolerant,” but also, “firm, unyielding, hard.”  In Latin this adjective described persons as well as navigable rivers. 

Of course all of that comes from Douglas, who is utterly brilliant and tremendously entertaining.  I like to look up words in Etymonline when I’m in lines, and lately I’ve been in line the most at the Post Office.

I looked up the etymology for “patience” right after I finished filling out a Customs form on the lil waiting table they have, the same table a dude was aggressively drumming his fingers on only slightly down from me.  Thump-thump-thump / thump-thump-thump / thump-thump-thump / *sigh, *looks around, *sigh / thump-thump-thump / thump-thump-thump / thump-thump-thump.  

DUDE I thought.  Chillllll with the finger drumming.  You walked in maybe two minutes ago anyway.  These are the same people who made my husband and I literally turn around 17,000 pieces of mail that was still going to need to be processed by hand anyway just because they could and were feeling salty. 

And my dude I hope you’ve packed snacks cause there’s two people in front of me and I’m sending some Truer Words to Dresden, Germany.  It’s going to be a second.  Instead of asking everyone around you to tolerate you, why don’t you see your line experience as a way to practice tolerating us?   

Until I looked closely at the etymology I always had the sense that the word “patience” denoted the kind of happy waiting that could be described as soft, feminine, agreeable.  Over the years when I’ve answered the inevitable, “what do you do for work?” with, “I teach kids who have learning differences,” I’ve often gotten the response, “wow that must take so much patience.” 

It depends on what you mean by patience, but yes.  It does.  It’s a lot more about cultivating the kind of enduring firmness that will allow you to navigate a river even if it’s up to your neck and full of storm water than simply remaining agreeable when things take the time they take.  Patience in my work is about actively bearing the weight of time on your shoulders, consistently supporting your kids with the long game in mind while also balancing their constant immediate needs.  It requires unyielding endurance.

Patience demands strength.


“I’m sorry. I’m so bad at selling things,” I muttered, slightly flushed with shame.

Wendy paused.  “How about we reframe that, Emily,” she said.  “What if we said you’re not totally sure how to sell your products…yet?”

I smiled as I handed her a deck of my Truer Words cards, still feeling twinges of oh-my-God-I-own-a-business-and-made-a-thing-but-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing as I watched her rummage around for cash.  

Wendy had wanted to pay me for my cards with “Cash App.”  That is capitalized and in quotes because I literally have no idea what it is, even after I tried to quickly look it up on the iTunes store in order to install it on my phone. 

Turns out it’s some kind of magic thing that lets people give you money, but my hopes of installing it and thus appearing to sorta know what I was doing were dashed when I remembered I can’t ever remember my iTunes password.  Like ever.  Thanks dyslexia. 

When I don’t understand something I shut down.  I feel dumb.  I get a tight feeling in my chest and a sinking feeling in my stomach, the exact same sensation I felt when I had tests on long division in 6th grade.

Reframe: I’ve spent my entire life figuring out how to do the thing in my own way, at my own speed.   My brain is a good brain. 

The funny thing is that so often when we grow up we expect to somehow leave behind our child selves.  We forget that just because someone is an adult doesn’t mean they can read. Or spell.  Or do math.  Or know what Cash App is and how it works. 

Reframe: everyone can learn if they are taught.  You can even teach yourself if you’ve learned how you learn and can set aside your anxiety and fear.

I decided this weekend, after meeting Wendy at her rad Women in Business seminar at Mercycorps Northwest, that I was going to start this week by setting aside my anxiety and fear surrounding selling the things I’ve made. 

I woke up this morning and figured out how to make a store on my website.  I have some things for sale in there.  I’m proud of these offerings and myself. 

So what if I never thought my super dyslexic self would be capable of making a printed resource?  How is it serving me to be convinced that I don’t belong or aren’t good enough to have my own store?

 Reframe: I created Truer Words Volumes 1 & 2 because they help me and will help you.  They are beautiful.  They are true.  They are some pieces of my heart on really nice paper that I paid extra for. 

Thanks for the invitation to reframe, Wendy.  I needed it.

Tide Pools

We crawled out of bed just after 6 am to catch the 7 am low tide.   The day before I had heard the ranger say to a group of people that the morning low tide was the better one. We got coffee on the way, in those disposable paper cups lined with wax that I recently learned take 20-30 years to decompose.  Cups that almost certainly comprise part of the "great Pacific garbage patch," a known oceanic trash vortex three times the size of France. 

All those cups and empty plastic water bottles and nets and old Barton binders and tsunami debris tangled together forever in a never-ending trash ballet.  It’s really hard to do no harm you guys.  At least it is in my experience.

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area has an array of attractions, but chief among them are the tide pools.   Tide is an interesting word to study.  It comes to us from the Old English tid, which according to Etymonline originally had the sense, “point or portion of time, due time, period, season, feast day, canonical hour.”  Y’all I had no idea what “canonical hour” meant until this moment.  It means “the times of daily Christian prayer as appointed in the breviary.”    

I’m afraid you are on your own for breviary.  Time and tide wait for no man.

My teacher said this morning, in class, that a way to understand English as a stress-timed language (rather than a syllable-timed language) is to consider the points of stress as pulses.  Since the ocean is still in my ears I started thinking about how the waves pulse as the tides ebb and flow, and how stress pulses in individual lexemes contained within the greater ocean of our grammar.  My teacher observed that in English the pulsations of stress might even signal the grammar, like proJECT and PROject.  One stress pattern might signal a verb, the other a noun.

Spending time near tide pools will teach you that the waves in relation to the shore signals the tide.  Don’t go too far out when it’s high tide cause you might get swept away.   The intersections between land and sea are often not real friendly environments.  The intersections between knowledge and action, truth and lies, movement and paralysis often aren’t either.  

We traversed the loose rock and slick, seaweed covered boulders to deep saltwater pools.  Nearly every tide pool held hermit crabs in chipped turban snail shells, gorgeous soft green anemones, and spiny deep purple urchins, some as large as a clenched fist.  There were orange and purple sea stars, countless navy blue mussels, many tiny brown fish and gorgeous purple crabs, the latter seemingly cautiously optimistic that these humans were not the same threat level as the circling gulls.

We also saw chitons, creatures who bear a name that was first recorded in English in 1816, from the Greek khiton “unisex frock, tunic, chainmail coat.”

Gazing into the tide pools made me think about the risks and rewards of ongoing scholarship, the feeling of sinking yourself into such deep intellectual water that you are at moments certain that you’ll never dry out, that you’ll surely drown before the light of understanding shines and the tides recede.  

So many of us in service work feel overwhelmed by the constantly churning ocean of need before us, an ocean which requires a skill set that can never be static.  You can’t teach out of a binder and encounter the kind of depth of life that one finds in a tide pool.  Kids should not be made to wait until Level 6 before having an opportunity to understand the potential, single, final, nonsyllabic <e>.  That’s like taking a kid to a tide pool and telling them they’re not ready to know and understand what they can plainly see.  That’s an urchin, that’s a sea star, and that over there is a chiton.  Names have tremendous power.  Use them yourself and teach them to children.

It’s two weeks before the school year starts here.  The first day for most of my students is on a Monday, the day named in honor of the force that governs our tides. 

May you constantly seek the richness of understanding that lurks in deep tidal pools. 

May you know when to retreat for your own safety, and may you also know when to bravely stay the course of the tide. 



I’ve been mailing seeds: San Francisco, California.  Culpeper, VA. Oregon City, Oregon.  Oakland, California.  San Mateo, California.   Louisville, Kentucky. El Cajon, California.  East Greenville, Pennsylvania.  Kennesaw, Georgia.  South Bend, Indiana.  Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Freeport, Ohio.  Culpepper, Virginia.  Langhorne, Pennsylvania.  Cluis, France.

Seed: noun/verb, which means that it’s both a thing and a thing you can do, but in our written language it was a thing first.  It’s rare in Present Day English for <seed> to surface in a construction where it means “offspring, children” but originally it also had that sense.

I bet you can guess why.

My seeds are called Truer Words.  No one gave me permission to gather my understandings together and self publish them.  I don’t have a PhD.  I’m not endowed with shiny certificates and endorsements.  I’m just a dyslexic person who finally understands her own writing system because I had the good fortune to study in good company, which afforded me the opportunity to weed all the phonics lies out of my brain. 

Do you know what feels weird?  Seeing your ideas and creative energy in tangible form.  The moment you get to hold something you have only previously thought about (obsessively, for months).  Here I am.  Here are my seeds. 

I am a dyslexic, big picture processor who is predisposed to connecting distantly related things at the expense of fine detail.  You don’t need to feel bad for me and no for the love of God I do not see things backwards.  Please stop asking me that.

Recently someone asked me why I’m so angry.  Let me tell you why, internet: I’m angry because our greatest resource is our seeds and phonics is like Monsanto.  Do you guys even know about Monsanto?  Did you know the dyslexia industry is corrupt? 

The Center for Food and Safety wrote a piece entitled, “History of Seed in the U.S.: The Untold American Revolution” in August 2012.  It’s a sobering read.

Over the past 40 years, the U.S. has led a radical shift toward commercialization, consolidation, and control of seed.  Prior to the advent of industrial agriculture, there were thousands of seed companies and public breeding institutions.  At present the top 10 seed and chemical companies, with the majority stake owned by U.S. corporations, controls 73 percent of the global market.  Today, fewer than 2 percent of Americans are farmers, whereas 90 percent of our citizens lived on farms in 1810. This represents perhaps a more transformative revolution than even the Revolutionary War recorded in our history books.

Hopefully you are a person who has been taught how to read so you can dive into those history books and make sense of them.  If you’re dyslexic let’s hope Orton-Gillingham works for you, because if it doesn’t we’ll probably just blame you for that failure to germinate. 

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens.  They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country, and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds.” (Notes on the State of Virginia, Paris, 1785)

Thomas Jefferson would be bummed if he knew just how much agricultural biotechnology has chipped away at the liberty and independence of those who grow our food.  You would be bummed if you knew just how badly teachers are prepared to teach every type of seed, not just the genetically engineered ones, how to read, spell and do math.   The 1990s gave us an explosion of seed and chemical mergers and phonics.  2001 gave us No Child Left Behind (aka No Child Left Untested But Even More Left Behind) and J.E.M. Ag Supply v. Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a case in which the Supreme Court upheld the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office practice of seed patenting.    

Nearly all genetically engineered seeds are sold by Monsanto and are resistant to a single herbicide (glyphosate).  You can only understand what “herbicide” means if you look at the structure: herb + i + cide à herbicide, a compound with base elements denoting, respectively, “grass, weed, plant” and “killing.”  It’s on my <herb> card in my deck.  Monsanto’s herbicide-resistant seeds and glyphosate—marketed as Roundup Ready by Monsanto—are sold together as a highly profitable, packaged system.

Kinda like how the same few educational publishing companies are lining up to provide scripted curriculum, standardized tests and special education materials.  Yessir, we can totally reduce English orthography to seven syllable types and a bunch of spelling rules, trust us, this is research based.  Oh you need something to measure the kids who don’t grow?  No problem, we got you covered there too.  No need to save your own seeds folks, just buy new workbooks each year!  You don’t need a real understanding of our orthography to teach it, just research based materials! 

Restricting and influencing independent scientific research is yet another result of consolidation of the seed and chemical industry.  Many believe that the legacy of the land grant universities and research institutes initiated during America’s development have now become tainted as these institutions often function as handmaidens of agribusinesses.  Seed and chemical companies now partner with these public institutions by providing funding and sometimes personnel.  The seed industry sees this as a win-win—it provides additional resources to these institutions and, in turn, the research benefits the public.  Yet the companies seem to derive the largest piece of the proverbial American Pie as they use the technology and research, much of it paid for by U.S. citizen tax dollars, to generate private profits.

We’ve spent millions researching phonological processing to death, and proved without a shadow of a doubt that dyslexics tend to have innate difficulty manipulating disembodied phonemes.  Okay.  Call me crazy but that task also falls under the “has a hard time with meaningless details” umbrella.  Call me crazy but why are we trusting the same people who sell us boxes to present an unbiased view of how English orthography functions?  Call me crazy but why did everyone decide to assume that our writing system is most coherently understood as a bunch of sound/symbol correspondences? 

The same person who asked me why I was so angry claimed some teachers just need a script.  If you need a script then you should not be a teacher.  If you can only grow one thing that you also have to spray with literal poison then you should not be a farmer.    Not everyone can farm or teach.  That’s not a moral judgment.  It’s an observation.

Promoting homogenous seed stocks via seed patenting and industrial agriculture has resulted in a dramatic loss of plant biodiversity. Attempting to teach children how to read without considering morphology and etymology first has resulted in a dramatic lack of real understanding.  A 1983 study by the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) found that over the course of eighty years, the U.S. lost 93 percent of its agricultural genetic diversity.  RAFI’s report concludes that 75 percent of today’s food calories worldwide are derived from just nine plants.

In 2013 the U.S. Department of Justice reported that 85% of juvenile offenders have reading problems.  When you have trouble blossoming things typically don’t end well for you. 

Gee I hope nothing goes wrong with one of the nine plants that feeds the majority of the human race.  I'm also praying that the big picture processor whose more diverse neural structure holds the potential cure for cancer doesn’t end up in prison because her teachers are only equipped with a script, which (when the Tier 3, 2 and 1 don’t work because they are all different versions of the same script) eventually lands her in tutoring that claims the most meaningful way to understand the word “action” is to divide it into ac/tion.   

Orton-Gillingham programs and courses claim that our gorgeously diverse orthography can be boiled down to seven syllable types and a bunch of spelling rules that all have exceptions.   Their premise is false, but somehow that isn’t supposed to matter because they are trying really hard to help the dyslexics and are such nice people, and besides they might even mention at the end of their course or workshop about how there's another type of understanding one could cultivate that happens to be true.

The thing is? You reap what you sow.

No Words? Read Hers.

Sometimes something happens in your life and you don't have any words.  Do you guys know what I am talking about?  Maybe a situation changes completely and all of a sudden your mouth is open but no sound is coming out?  Yeah.  That's happened to me.

I did an interview with Dr. Michael Hart and felt really good about it, in the moment.  He posted it on his website yesterday.  

I did not okay the title. 

Then he wrote an unauthorized blog post about me, in the process making some super untrue claims, and as of this writing has still not updated his post.  Cool cool.  So that's how it's gonna be.

Luckily for me scholarship begins at three.   

I might not have any words but my teacher Gina Cooke sure does.  Please read them if you also read Dr. Hart's blog.  They are exactly how I feel and better than anything I could come up with:

Dr. Hart:

You are not the first person to try to police my tone in order to deflect from the facts I am offering, and you won't be the last. Perhaps you should familiarize yourself with my work before you offer your ill-formed fantasies about how it may be received. Managing how adult strangers feel is not my line of work.

You'd like to differentiate yourself as a psychologist, not a tutor. OK, fine. I'm not sure how that's relevant, considering that you wrote an unauthorized blog about a tutor and made recommendations about tutoring. I am a tutor, have been for a long time. But I am first and foremost a linguist; I research the language. That's why I can offer an understanding of it that is accurate and real and helpful, no matter what's "embedded" in a field.

I don't care how "deeply embedded" lies are, or how adults feel about being called out for lying to children about their own language. I'm sure that it was really hard on the feels of the leechers when modern medicine came along. I bet that the alchemists are still licking their wounds over the empirical revelation that you can't turn other substances into gold. And yes, the flat-earthers and the geocentrists are still put out about Galileo, darn it.

Look, science moves. Real science doesn't cling to what's "embedded" in the history of a field, or to research that's all predicated on a falsehood. Language is not static, and neither is the evidence and understanding we have about how it works. "It's embedded in the field" is not a scientific argument.

Your blog post is not helpful; it muddies the waters you thought you were helping to clear. To have a phonics proponent like you who knows nothing about SWI give it some kind of weird sanction in a blog post? Not helpful. Why not take more than an hour to learn about it?

Tell you what: I'll give you a free Introduction to SWI class. You can take it online. No need to even leave home. Contact me through my website to schedule it.

I wish you had just let Emily explain SWI in your interview, rather than trying to paraphrase her in a blog post that she did not agree to. I don't think you listened to Emily: it was not 7 or 8 years ago, more like 2 or maybe 3. She didn't just choose a new "core intervention approach" -- she upended her understanding of how the language does and does not work, based on scientific evidence, and she changed her practice accordingly.

It's not like she took a new training and got a new book and just had a new approach. But I'm not here to stick up for Emily. I'm here to say, no, SWI is not an "also," and frankly, you really don't know what it is. Your blog post misrepresents SWI, and I am calling it out.

With all due respect, when you try to write about SWI, you have no solid idea of what it is. When I write about OG, on the contrary, I know it intimately. You're right -- I don't know you. But I totally know what you do. I know the Dyslexia Industry really well. I know the psychology; I know the neuroscience; I know the research; I know the pedagogy. Really. Well. On the other hand, you don't know a thing about my work, as evidenced by your clumsy attempts to hush me up by scolding me about what OG practitioners might think of me, as though I didn't already know.

For the record; I wasn't being sarcastic. I was being direct. I wasn't suggesting that you don't care about children. I am suggesting that caring about and supporting children is NOT ENOUGH to equip them for a literate lifetime. We need real understanding about the language, not just feelings, tender or hurt or otherwise.

You "did not explain [your] point very well" because you're not sure what your point is. You invested exactly one hour interviewing someone and then threw the weight of your expertise behind a blind recommendation for SWI as an "also" to OG. That's not helping

It's really not helping. Here is what I think: SWI is better.  Heads and shoulders better.  It is 100% what I would recommend.  I don't want my name in a blog post that recommends kids get both OG and SWI.  I do not believe in OG.  I can say that because I used to use it, and now I do not.  I do not believe in OG because it misrepresents our written orthography to my fellow dyslexic humans and I am not okay with that.  

Hold up you guys I think I just got my voice back. 


I woke up at 4 am again today, this time thinking about stress.

I haven’t been sleeping well.  Stress is part of it.

Yesterday Dr. Michael Hart, a man who I both respect and admire, interviewed me and I don’t think I mentioned stress even once.  I’m not sure though.  I was nervous (if we’re being honest) and so my memory of what I said (and did not say) is fragmented, broken into various random sound bites and images. 

I know I spelled at least two things wrong. 

So in case I did not mention it yesterday, English is a stress-timed language.  It is not a syllable-timed language like French, and thus it is not helpful to assume that the best way to teach reading or spelling is to try to isolate an individual’s spoken syllables and connect them with written syllables when considering a given lexical item.  For example: boil, loyal, chocolate.  I promise that is not a spell.

Do you want to know something really rad?

In Old English the noun spell had a form identical to the one we see today.  Its sense was different, though, and at that time spell meant, “story, saying, tale, history, narrative, discourse, fable, command.”  From 1200 onward spell gained an additional sense of “utterance, statement, remark.”   Spell meaning, “set of words with supposed magical or occult powers, incantation” is first recorded in the 1570s. 

Obviously this information comes from the priceless contributions to the field of truth and beauty by

Go there and gain knowledge about your language, all ye who wanna help.

In the 14th century spell is realized in the written record as a verb.  This spell began in French and, because both language and life are messy, “merged with or displaced” (side note nothing in material life is eternal either) the word in Old English that meant the same thing.  The meaning of both the French and Old English form of spell the verb was, “read letter by letter; write or say the letters of.”  You know.  Like what we try to teach kids.

The best part of this whole story I have not even said yet.  Are you ready?  As my teacher says, do you have a strong beverage of your preference nearby? 

Both <spell> (the noun) and <spell> (the verb) have the same Proto-Germanic root: *spellam, which had the sense of “say aloud, recite.” 

These words were born together, spell and spell.  How do you cast a spell?  You say some important things out loud, with a high degree of accuracy and meaningful intention.    

Everything makes sense.  You just have to know how the system works.  If you are casting a spell you need a book of spells and a teacher.  If you are teaching spelling you need to understand the structure of how English spelling really works, which also means you need some books and a teacher.

I kinda know how the system works.  I have carved out enough of an understanding that I at least have a place to stand.  The thing is, the system is actually a river, and learning does not go in a straight line.  We are never done.  Language is not static.

Yesterday, during the Very Important Interview in Which My Expectation For Myself Was Perfection, I forgot to mark the position of stress when I analyzed and then resolved the word <inspire> using the lexical algorithm.   My spell might not work, but I wholeheartedly believe in a magic that is living and breathing, ultimately forgiving and open to do-overs. 

So here we go:


in + 'spire --> inspire

You cannot be perfect all the time.  But you can aspire. 

Also I promise you that English spelling making perfect sense is not a conspiracy.   Cross my heart and hope to die.  In fact, if you dig a little deeper and spend time with our orthography as it really is, you might just end up a lot less…stressed. 

Ambiguous Loss

I can’t sleep.  Not always; just lately.

It’s 4 am and I’m reading an article titled, “The New Midlife Crisis: Why (and How) It’s Hitting Gen X Women,” on the internet.  It’s not an uplifting piece. This article posits that many women are, “experiencing what psychologists call ambiguous loss. ‘Ambiguous losses are a particular type of loss that lack a definition and lack closure,’ says Kelly Maxwell Haer, PhD, of the Boone Center for the Family at Pepperdine University, in California.” 

The word “ambiguous” is attested in English since the 1520s, and is derived from the Latin ambiguus, “having double meaning, shifting, changeable, doubtful.”  It’s constructed from the Latin ambi-, which lends the sense of “around” plus agere, which has the idea of “drive, lead, act.”  The denotation of “ambiguous” is literally “to wander, go about, go around.” Pauline Boss, a researcher who studied families of soldiers who went missing in action, first used the term “ambiguous loss” in the 1970s.

Ambiguous loss can describe infertility, for example.  You can’t physically lose what you never had, but you can still experience psychological pain over the not having, over your own personal monthly loss cycle. Honestly I didn’t know that was a thing.  Turns out it’s totally a thing.

Ambiguous loss can also describe your feels in the wake of the dissolution of your scholarly community on Facebook.  It can describe the frustration and pain of navigating school as a dyslexic human.  It’s that meandering pathway of pain and loss, with no clear map or center or way forward. 

There is no “if this, then that” when it comes to helping children navigate their dyslexia in schools. Every day is a new series of ambiguous losses.  The physics teacher who refuses to email you the review sheet for the upcoming test because apparently it’s already on Google Drive; he notes that it’s a real bummer that you don’t have access, maybe someone from the district will “get in touch.”  Of course this begs the question that if he uploaded the file to Google Drive he could also just attach that same file to his condescending reply.  The math teacher who insists that despite high anxiety and avoidance on the part of your student, in Montessori education all students must be exposed to all fraction operations at one time, so the child is free to explore their “learning potential.”  Your dyslexic kid that routinely texts you desperate questions about her homework at 11 pm at night because her homework is totally insane and takes her five hours to complete.  The parent who started crying three minutes into your phone call yesterday, who just wants to know when it’s all going to feel easier.

The answer is it’s never going to feel easier, because it’s never going to be easy.  The odds are one hundred percent stacked against you and your different brain.  If you make it that is a small scale miracle.  Of course this is my opinion.  Of course these are not facts.  If you want facts you can head to Google and find some.  I’ll give you a Google-push-on-the-swing-though, and include this fact from the US Department of Education: “60% of America's prison inmates are illiterate and 85% of all juvenile offenders have reading problems.”

Sometimes when it all feels really hard, like now, I fantasize about being a barista.  I imagine how much less daily ambiguous loss I’d experience if I was only responsible for making lattes as opposed to attempting to help children and families across what feels so often like a gaping abyss. 

But the truth is despite the odds I’m actually pretty good at navigating ambiguous loss.  Somehow my kids are learning and thriving despite the very real daily obstacles in their way.  And I would be absolute trash at making those amazing foam creatures on the top of fancy coffee drinks. 

So I guess I’ll just be over here taking Ls and praying for strength. 


I have a calendar in my office.  There is a different word for every month, and the word for this month is “thrive.”  I remember how I felt when I hung my calendar up in January.  I felt white-hot rage: something wise warrior women are used to feeling but are asked to hide since forever.  Play nice, says society.  God forbid someone thinks you are mean on Facebook. 

Before the calendar there was a framed certificate.  This certificate was something that I had to work hard to earn.  This certificate was an official stamp of approval from the Barton Reading and Spelling System, proclaiming me a Certified Barton Reading and Spelling System Tutor.  This certificate was designed to reassure parents, children, and myself that I was equipped with A Binder and A Plan and A Scope And Sequence that was Research Based and would Absolutely Teach the Dyslexics How to Read Good and Do Other Things Good Too.    

The word “assure” rolled around in French before arriving in English, but you can still see Latinate bones in its structure.  These fossilized morphemes yield a denotation of “to safety/security.”  As in away from the unknown.  As in avoid discomfort at all costs.  Turns out things are defined by what they are not.

When someone tries to reassure you, please learn from my mistakes and run like hell. 

Two years ago I met a child who changed my life forever.  This child, who I will call Ethan, could not read.  He had repeated Kindergarten.  He was in first grade.  His truly outstanding first grade teacher had already referred him for Special Education Eligibility, which he would go on to qualify for.  Ethan was confused by concepts like “brave spelling” (write down the sounds you hear, children!) and was unable to read.  Math was also hard.  School was beginning to feel like an impossible endeavor.

I met with Ethan for the first time on April 30th, 2015.  I administered a bunch of tests and gathered a bunch of data.  Ethan’s Phonological Awareness, as measured by the CTOPP-2, fell in the 6th percentile.  His Phonological Memory score was 3rd percentile.  Ethan’s Rapid Automatic Naming was very low.  His spelling, as measured by the WIST, was in the 2nd percentile, and his word identification was in the less than first percentile.  Ethan’s Oral Reading Percentile Rank, as measured by the GORT-5 (Gray Oral Reading Test, 5th edition), fell in the 2nd percentile. 

I concluded in my written report that Ethan was 1) super dyslexic and 2) needed an “intensive OG program” in order to be successful.  I never really intended to work with Ethan.  My job at the time was to do assessments and then send families on their way, armed with new, carefully documented information and a hefty resource list.   

However--because I am very fortunate and there are no coincidences--I did begin working with Ethan.  I saw him twice a week for an hour.  I can count on one hand the number of times he’s missed tutoring.  He’s without a doubt one of the most remarkably intelligent, big picture, hard working, and thoughtful children I have ever met.  We started the Barton Reading and Spelling System together and I felt confident.  As one does when one has a Shiny Framed Certificate.

About a year ago I began to feel like Ethan’s progress was beginning to falter.  He struggled to remember all the spelling rules, which were becoming increasingly complex.  He had a hard time remembering and distinguishing between all the different directions one could send the consonant(s) when we divided polysyllabic words.  He was able to read “sight words” but unsure how to spell them, even after I checked and doubled checked that I was following Susan Barton’s Spelling Sight Words Procedure to the letter.  Ethan was able to use the spell checker during our tutoring, but it took him a long time and he often made mistakes.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

And to be real with you, as a dyslexic who was/is still a poor speller, I could not find fault with his areas of confusion and struggle.  Even though I had been told by Susan Barton that if I followed her Scope and Sequence I Too Would Become a Better Speller.  Maybe the only people who will become Better Spellers are those who can remember all the rules, which in my opinion range from difficult to remember at best (like the Floss Rule: if a one syllable word with just one short vowel ends in F, L, S or Z double the final F, L, S or Z) to nearly outright impossible to apply, even as an adult (like Picnic Chicken Basket: when you hear /k/ in the middle of a word first try spelling the /k/ sound with a C (don’t use C if there is a watch-out vowel, watch-out vowels are I, E, Y), then try a CK (the ONLY time you can use CK is right after one short vowel), and then finally a K (last choice).  Stop at the first one that works).   If that doesn’t sound hard to you then yay for you.  It’s hard for me and it was hard for Ethan. 

My inner turmoil and cognitive dissonance grew louder and louder.  I asked myself questions like, why is it recommended for a student who has lower working memory to stop the flow of their writing to open the spell checker, remember how to use the spell checker, and then type letters into the spell checker hoping the right word they want pops up?  Why is it recommended to ask your students to wade through an entire Spelling Rules page devoted to SION/TION when they are attempting to spell a word that has the suffix <ion>, and why does Susan Barton call *<tion> and *<sion> units when the <t> or <s> is ALWAYS (not sometimes) part of the previous morpheme and <ion> is a suffix that forms abstract nouns from verbs? 

You do the best you can until you know better, and then you do better.  Luckily for me I stumbled across people who were doing better than Susan Barton when it came to teaching children how our writing system works.  I was suspicious at first, though.  When your thinking is still limited by what’s been given a Gold Stamp of Approval versus what is just the truth things can get tricky.  But here’s the thing about truth: it’s beautiful, it’s elegant, and most of all, it’s meaningful.  Dyslexics have to have that truth and beauty in my opinion.  In my opinion it’s the truth and beauty inherent in structure that enables dyslexics to thrive.

Structured Word Inquiry is a framework for investigating the structure inherent in English Orthography.  It’s not a curriculum.  There is no Scope and Sequence, or as one of my teachers says, Scoop and Sequins.  It does not have a universal Gold Stamp of Approval from the sellers of Dyslexia Remediation Programs and Trainings.  There are four questions: What does the word mean?  How is the word built?  What are the relatives?  What are the graphemes that are spelling phonemes?  There are some leaders in the field who have dedicated their professional lives to helping people like me access real understanding.  And then, best of all, there’s our gorgeous language itself, which continues to defy the boxes we long to put her into.  There’s a historical reason for that <h> in “ghost.”  The word “daughter” makes perfect sense.  The <g> in “sign” spells a zero allophone in that word, but is phonetically realized in other words with the same free base <sign>, like “signal” or “signature” or “design.” 

These eternal structures and precise terminology are not too hard for Ethan.      

Ethan and I stopped using the Barton Reading and Spelling System about a year ago.  It felt a little like leaping off a cliff, to be honest with you.  I was nervous, because even though I was/am/will never stop learning everything I can about how our writing system actually works, leaving behind the Gold Stamp of Approval was a big big deal for me. 

Our time since the cliff jump has been the richest and most meaningful work we’ve done.  He comes to session with words.  He wants to know about words like ancient, could, xylophone, migration, decide, comb, perspiration and vacuum.  It’s not unusual for him to ask me about a word I cannot spell on my own, but again lucky me Ethan’s dear mama always sits in on session and regularly bails me out if this happens.  Or we all look it up together.  No one dies.  It’s okay not to know things.

Turns out perspiration, which is a word we encountered while studying Charlotte’s Web, is: per + spire + ate + ion --> perspiration. The bound base (every word either is a base or has a base) is <spire>, which comes from the Latin word for breathe, blow (yes, totally related to the word spirit).  Perspiration is the skin breathing.  Spelling makes sense.  

A while ago Ethan came into session and asked me about the word “vaccum.”  We discovered that vaccum’s base, <vace>, also surfaces in evacuee, vacant, vacation, and vacancies.  All those words have an idea of emptiness.  Not always a bad thing, emptiness.  You need it in order to take a vacation.   

I proposed the idea of doing Form B of the GORT-5 to Ethan and his mama a couple weeks ago.  We’ll only do it if we decide to as a team, I said.  We don’t need a test to tell us you are a better reader, because we already know you are. 

Ethan was game.  He’s straight up one of the bravest lil warriors I know.

Ethan scored in the 25th percentile for rate, 84th percentile for accuracy, 63rd percentile for fluency, and 95th percentile for comprehension.  His Oral Reading Percentile Rank fell in the 84th percentile, versus two years ago when it was 2nd percentile.  He can read now.  He could not read before and now he can.  If I die today my life meant something, because no one can ever take that from him.

Shout it Out Loud


You know what's totally awesome?  Not being afraid to shout your truth from the rooftops.

Today I testified, along with many other super rad humans from Decoding Dyslexia and other places, in front of the TSPC (Teacher Standards and Practices Committee) in Salem.  

Backstory: in 2015 Oregon passed a law which stipulated that all pre-service teacher training programs (and Special Education and Reading endorsement programs) had to provide mandatory coursework on dyslexia.  Some Oregon universities have pushed back.  This public hearing was called to hear testimony from proponents and opponents of the proposed university guidelines.  Spoiler alert: I am a proponent of this legislation and the proposed university guidelines.  Below is my testimony because I'm not done speaking my truth. 

I graduated from Lewis and Clark College’s M.A.T. program in 2010.  I am currently a licensed early childhood/elementary teacher in the state of Oregon.   I was raised in Oregon and am a proud graduate of Gladstone High School.  I am also dyslexic.

I did not know that my dyslexia was the cause of my almost constant struggle in school until after I graduated with my M.A.T. and began teaching.  I never heard the word “dyslexia” as a child, and I certainly never heard the word “dyslexia” at Lewis and Clark. 

 My M.A.T. program had one course on learning disabilities/special education, and this course consisted almost entirely of overviewing how children are referred for Special Education and the different component parts of an IEP.  My professor consistently reassured us that should we have a child in our classrooms that experienced learning difficulty we should simply “do our best” with that child in his or her general education setting.  I distinctly remember my professor saying that it’s the SPED teachers who have the training that allows them to step in and provide intervention to struggling students.  The general education teacher’s job is just to make sure to follow the proper channels to ensure that those students are referred for possible SPED eligibility. 

We did not have any coursework on how English words can be explicitly taught or why that is of immense value to every learner, not just essential for the dyslexic learner.  Instead our coursework in how to teach reading and writing revolved around how to best construct reading and writing workshops.  One required text in my M.A.T. program, Reading with Meaning: Teaching Comprehension in the Primary Grades by Debbie Miller, stated that in a reading workshop, “the books and materials I’ve [Debbie Miller] chosen are most likely not at the children’s instructional level; whether a child can or cannot read them doesn’t matter. I’ve chosen them because the familiar songs and story lines, the short text, and the colorful illustrations are perfect for children’s working with books, practicing reading behaviors, becoming engaged and motivated, and building community.”

 Another required text from my M.A.T. program, Strategies That Work by Stephanie Harvey & Anne Goudvis, stated the following, “There are no better print materials to use with reluctant readers than picture books. The pictures complement the text to help less proficient readers access meaning….But sometimes reluctant intermediate and middle school readers are more reticent to choose picture books than their proficient reader counterparts.  They believe that reading picture books will further identify them as unsuccessful readers.  We need to promote picture books by reading them out loud, both fiction and nonfiction.  Book choice is contagious.  If we read picture books and share our passion for them, kids will choose them, too.  In classrooms where proficient readers and their teachers choose compelling picture books, reluctant readers climb aboard.”

I also learned in my teacher education program that should a student continue to struggle to read proficiently, we should listen to that student read in order to hear what types of errors (miscues) that student is making.  While listening to a student read is certainly a helpful assessment tool, the required text we were given to teach us this tool, Miscue Analysis Made Easy by Sandra Wilde, contained seriously misleading statements about the English language, such as, “It’s important to realize that an explicit phonics approach posits that learning to read is primarily a matter of learning what sounds go with each letter or combination of letters and then blending them together, while a holistic view suggests that readers who begin with repeated reading of whole texts can eventually abstract out how phonics works without very much conscious awareness of it, or formal instruction.”

We have decades of scientific research that clearly indicates that if you have dyslexia—which approximately 1 in 5 people do—you must have access to explicit, sequential, and multi-sensory instruction in reading in order to become a proficient reader and writer.  We have had this information for over 30 years, and yet many teacher education programs are still teaching pre-service teachers that kids will, basically, learn to read on their own and our job is to keep them engaged with exciting texts.  If they really resist reading, however, try enticing them with a picture book.  Even if they are in middle school.  Even if the shame of not being able to access literacy in middle school in front of their peers is at that very moment creating emotional scars they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

 My coursework at Lewis and Clark College failed absolutely in preparing me to meet the needs of dyslexic students.  In fact, the coursework at Lewis and Clark pushed me more deeply into the shame that I had carried with me my entire life, the shame of thinking you are broken.  It was not until I graduated and had the good fortune to pursue hundreds of hours of post-graduate study that I realized dyslexia is real and there’s something you can do about it.  

 I am not broken, but our system of educating teachers is.   Let’s fix it together.

You are Allowed to Disagree with the Speaker

I went to a workshop on dyscalculia yesterday. It was called, ”The Neuropsychology of Mathematics: An Introduction to the FAM” by Dr. Steven Feifer.  If you don’t know exactly what dyscalculia means, don’t worry; the general consensus is even experts are not totally sure what it means either. If we look at the Greek we see it most likely means something along the lines of “trouble with calculations” in the same way that dyslexia means “trouble with language.” 

Dr. Feifer was a fantastic presenter.  He was warm, open, engaging and had some very relevant and useful research to share.  Dr. Feifer shared data gathered in 2015 by the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress, which according to their website is the, “largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America's students know and can do in various subject areas”).

The 2015 NAEP assessment data showed that fully 60% of 4th graders are below grade level in mathematics.  If you are curious, data showed 67% of 8th graders are below grade level in mathematics.  

From 2013 to 2015 NAEP data shows a “statistically significant” drop in scores overall in mathematics, for both 4th and 8th graders.  It is Dr. Feifer’s opinion that this is not because of the Common Core. 

But as Dr. Feifer said, “you are allowed to disagree with the speaker.”

The first thing that I would like to say, before any of the other things that I am going to say, is that I was genuinely pleased and moved and felt so validated when he said that.  He said it in a mock whisper, at least that’s my memory, in a way where I was instantly like, oh-man-I-bet-this-guy-is-a-great-dad-and-awesome-with-kids. “You are allowed to disagree with the speaker. “  Yes. Thank you, Dr. Feifer.  I am on board with disagreeing with you and that being okay.

So here are some things I disagree with: first, that there were a grand total of two slides entitled “General Dyscalculia Interventions.” Second, all of the following statements presented as said Dyscalculia Interventions.

“Teach students to think in ‘pictures’ and well as ‘words’”  

Okay, yes, agree totally every kiddo has to have their math picture. But you can’t just say, “teach students to think in pictures.” How?  How do you teach someone to think in pictures?  This is a how question, not a “just do.”  It’s nothing short of an art form helping a child establish and sustain their perceptual picture of mathematics that aligns with their unique processing style.  You cannot simply tell a room of educators to teach students to think in pictures without supporting them in what they, as educators, would need to know in order to embark on that endeavor.

“Construct incorrect answers to equations and have students discriminate correct vs. incorrect responses.”

Let me use a language arts analogy here: would we give a reading LD student a book full of some words spelled incorrectly and some spelled correctly, ask him to read the book, and then when he gets stuck on a word ask him if that’s a correct word or an incorrect word?  I think the answer to that question would be no.  Would we expect that a reasonable intervention for spelling would ever include teaching a LD child how to spell by detecting teacher-created misspelled words vs. correctly spelled words? 

“Have students explain their strategies when problem solving to expand problem solving options.” 

I could best see this suggestion as something that might be a helpful accommodation (not intervention) for an individual who benefits from processing verbally.  It has been my clinical experience that only some students with math LD have enough working memory space left to explain what they are doing as they are solving a problem.  Also having a student explain their thinking, even if it does lead to a rich, expansive conversation, is not an intervention.  At least not in my opinion.

“Teach estimation skills to allow for effective previewing of response.”

I think it’s totally on point to teach estimation skills.  It has been my experience also that dyslexics are great at estimating, which makes a lot of sense since estimating is a task us right hemisphere dominant people often excel at.  However, we need to be so careful not to mix exact math (left hemisphere dominant), where there is no room for even the slightest variation in answer, and approximate math, where there is room for variation/interpretation/wiggle room.  It is a mistake absolutely to encourage kids to do both at the same time, especially as an intervention for math LD.

“Freedom from anxiety in class setting.  Allow extra time for assignments and eliminate fluency drills.”

Here we have a heartfelt wish for math LD kids and two accommodations, not interventions for dyscalculia.

“Teach skip counting to learn multiplication facts.”

As my teacher often says, the multiplication and division facts are the biggest development in all of elementary mathematics.  A math fact is something that you know so well you are able to retrieve it instantly, or almost instantly, depending on your unique processing.  It is the opposite of counting, which is not developing fact retrieval but rather developing counting.  Also good luck skip counting by 7s.

“Use graph paper to line up equations.”

This is an accommodation, not an intervention for dyscalculia.

It’s nice to have a corner of the internet where you can disagree.  It’s even nicer to know that when you are your own boss and live in America you can basically just be honest all the time.  I don’t need to tow the party line for a school, or various publishing companies.  The only people I answer to are every single one of my amazing families who already see the value in the work we do together. Together we keep fighting the good fight, and celebrate our collective permission to disagree with the speaker.

Always Late

It has always been my experience that I am late for things.  It is so often that we make tardiness into a moral failing in our American culture, so please hear me out on this one.

The reality is that I experience time differently than neuro-typical people.  This is common among dyslexic individuals.  I find time slippery and hard to manage, especially when I’m trying to plan around something new or unexpected in my routine.  Going to a job interview, for example.  Or starting your first day of work at a new job.  You have the very best intentions.  You arrive late.  You always forget you will probably miss the turn at least three times.  Thank God for GPS except when it lies to you, or tells you the exact truth but expects you to cross three lanes of traffic rightthissecond in order to obey the command to turn left.

My experience is that creative thinking does not follow the rules of linear time.  I will have been mulling something over for awhile, just letting an idea or problem stay liquid in my mind, and then bam: a super great thought rises to the surface right then, at that exact moment you also look at the clock realize it’s the same time that you promised to be out the door.   You are then simultaneously filled with the joy of sparkly creative feelings and the stomach dropping anxiety feelings.

I have lived my entire life with anxiety as my constant companion.  There is nothing worse than feeling like you did everything within your power to be good (set my alarm for an hour early, calculated the route the night before, packed my lunch) and yet still fall into the category of bad (um, you know you were supposed to be here at 9, right? Did you get lost?).  Sorry.  I’m sorry.  I’m just bad.  I know I’m bad.  I knew I was bad in 1st grade when the teacher was like, “OMG you are not normal” and here I am, years later, still withering under your sighs and waves of silent shaming disapproval. 

I know being on time is important.  I’m not arguing that we don’t need the structure that linear time provides.  But I beg of you to consider this: if you are a person in the world who is bothered by the tardiness of others, perhaps consider that humans have infinitely diverse processing styles, and that if someone is late it’s probably not because they are terrible.  And that it’s perhaps not useful—or really even arguably legal—to document how often a dyslexic kiddo with a dyslexic mama is tardy to school under his Present Levels of Academic Performance on his IEP.  It’s wrong to imply that being five to ten minutes late to school, even on a regular basis, somehow translates into the fact this child has a right to a free and appropriate public education and that it’s the system NOT THE CHILD that has failed spectacularly.

What if we strove to be on time but forgave one another and ourselves for tardiness?  What if we gave each other permission to just not feel bad?  What if we took someone’s hands, looked them in the eye, and said, “I am never going to be mad at you, disappointed in you, or think that you are bad if you are late.  Your processing style means that you have a different experience of time than other people.”  And you know what?  You’re still awesome.