Tag Archive: personal

  1. Hard to read

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    “Erevy asigmnent for this cuorse will be submited with perfect speling, punctutaion and acuracy.”

    Trouble reading this statement? Now, imagine reading 400 pages with the same jumbled letters, and finding red underscores under every sentence you type. Imagine walking into section, only to see that everyone else actually remembers what they’ve spent hours poring over in Bass. It’s highlighted with stickers, post-its and annotations.

    I’m lucky if I even get through the first half of the reading. I pick classes based on how thick the books are, not how interesting their synopses seem, and anything with the potential for a pop quiz is out of the question.

    After being at Yale for almost two years, I thought this simply meant that I was less smart than everyone else. I was proud of my ability to apply the portions of the readings I had completed to literally any of the professor’s question. I assumed that I was unable to read the material because I was overcommitted to other things outside the classroom: sleep, Netflix, this newspaper.

    But instead, midway through sophomore spring, when studying a foreign language became an endless ordeal, a solid concrete wall that was never going to fall, I finally plucked up the courage to admit to my dean that I was scared.

    “Maybe I’m not smart enough to be here anymore.”

    Journalists and authors publish many articles about my problem, but rarely in the first person. It’s a third-person narrative, because no-one suffering from the secret could ever tell their own story, right? Wrong.

    Three weeks ago, I received a piece of paper. On it, a diagnosis: dyslexia.


    “I hear you have dyslexia,” someone said to me a couple weeks ago. He said the word in a hushed tone, as if offering a form of protection from the people around me. He was right to offer protection: When I told other people, their expressions went from surprise to sorrow to sympathy, as they began to change their opinions of me.

    Still, with most people, you get the chance to change a first impression. The dyslexia comes second. With professors and figures of academic authority, on the other hand, the dyslexia can be the first impression.

    When Laura Schifter first began a graduate program in education at Harvard, she met with one of her professors to discuss the special accommodations she would need for exams and lecture notes. One professor told her that the department would need to be confident that the work was all her own before agreeing to these accommodations. The professor worried that dyslexia was an excuse for plagiarism.

    “That hit me in the face right when I started … It really made me question whether I want to talk about my disability,” she said.

    Together, we talked about our fears — we’re reticent to explain our disabilities to peers and professors who could judge us harshly, or expect less of us. But as high-achieving students, we’re most afraid of cracking under the pressure.

    Why? Because it hasn’t always been easy for students with learning disabilities at Ivy League colleges. In 2010, Diane Metcalf-Leggette sued Princeton for refusing to grant her extended time on exams. She argued that the university was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, and that Princeton had mistreated her in regards to her academic goals.

    The lawsuit stated that the insufficient accommodations left her at the “bottom of a slanted, not level, playing field.”

    Even though the university eventually settled with the student, Metcalf-Leggette fought to receive her learning accommodations for her entire freshman year.

    Thankfully, things at Yale have been different: The Office of Disabilities provides a comprehensive set of options; professors are responsive; and students have unlimited access to research, journals and speakers through the Yale Center For Dyslexia and Creativity, a research institute on learning differences.

    Neither Schifter nor Jonathan Mooney, an advocate for people with learning differences, had trouble receiving accommodations on an institutional basis.

    Instead, they dealt with a different problem: the sometimes pre-emptive accusation of academic dishonesty. In Schifter’s case, her professors made the assumption, but in Mooney’s case, it was sometimes peers at Brown. Not everyone understood why Mooney got access to a notetaker, extended time on exams and the possibility to alter the syllabus slightly to meet his needs.

    “I felt like a fraud and a phony,” he said.


    On his website, Mooney defines himself as “Author. Public Speaker. Different.” He graduated from Brown with a 4.0 in English literature and was awarded the Truman Scholarship, which funds up to $30,000 in scholarship support for graduate school. His first book, “Learning Outside The Lines,” was published while he was merely 23.

    It’s an impressive resume, but still: Mooney has had the same worries about learning differences for years. Diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD in elementary school, he told me that he’s had a different learning diagnosis nearly every year of his life and struggled to understand how best to learn and succeed.

    “There’s 10 Ph.D.s over there writing dissertations and books about kids like me. But, guess who has no voice in the process?” he asked at a conference at Towson University in 2001.

    The answer: “The kids who live the experience. So, I’m a voice for all those kids who are silent.”

    Silent because, even after decades of research and analysis, the assumption that dyslexia and intelligence are mutually exclusive remained as intransient as ever. Mooney’s own story is a counterexample to that assumption, he said, and it’s a way to address the social inequality surrounding learning differences. He does not like to call them disabilities.

    And in light of new research suggesting that dyslexia either doesn’t exist or is over-diagnosed to help under-qualified students, he said, the temptation to hide learning differences was even stronger.

    The term dyslexia was first coined in 1887 by Rudolf Berlin to describe a young boy who had demonstrated intelligence and a capacity for learning, but could not read at the same rate as his peers. The term was defined in early medical journals as “Congenital Word Blindness,” with the term dyslexia not being widely used until the 1930s.

    Yet in the early 21st century, British professor Julian Elliott and others claimed that dyslexia did not exist at all. He termed it “useless” — a simple term for “poor readers.” The British Dyslexic Association termed his papers “very damaging and insulting to people who are trying to overcome their dyslexia.”

    In 2004, during another wave of such claims, Serena Gosden-Hood ’08 told the News that students without learning disabilities tend to have difficulty understanding the need for special accommodations, particularly when the students were intelligent Yale students.

    “I would often see pathetic and embarrassed looks in people’s eyes when they heard I had a learning disability, and I would have to explain that it doesn’t mean you’re unintelligent,” she said.

    Sometimes, students with learning differences endure more than just embarrassed looks. In 2008, the charity Mencap released statistics that showed 82 percent of young people with learning disabilities have experienced a form of bullying. And, even though the cases of bullying can be the most extreme and I am fortunate to not identify as one of those 82 percent, I can begin to relate to the fear of backlash.

    “Remember, you are the same person now that you will be in 45 minutes time.”

    That’s what the Judy York, Yale’s director in the disabilities office, told me as she gave me the formal diagnosis. But, irrespective of what the paper says, it can sometimes be difficult to remember that it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day.

    I can’t ice skate. I’m allergic to shellfish. Fish creep me out. I read slower. I think in pictures, not words. I want to be a writer. Albert Einstein was dyslexic. Science is hard too.

    So, it does not matter whether I was formally diagnosed or if I had just continued to think of myself as a right-brained, creative mind. I got to Yale without anyone even noticing my learning difference. I declared as an English major. This is only one of many stories I have successfully written in these pages. I’ve read Shakespeare and Tolstoy and got further in a language course than any statistics could have predicted.

    Disability or no disability, I have no plans to stop.

    Contact Stephanie addenbrooke at

    stephanie.addenbrooke@yale.edu .

  2. On feminism and alienation


    In July, Jess Zimmerman published an article called “Where’s my Cut?: On Unpaid Emotional Labor.” She argues that women learn to stroke men’s egos, calm their tempers and endure their insults, all without pay. She’s joking, of course, when she suggests that these men write checks to their girlfriends, confidantes and sisters — she just means that women deserve acknowledgement. Women aren’t born with the deep-seated desire to smile and nod at men’s complaints; they don’t wake up every morning thinking, “If only I could find a man to interrupt me, ignore me and bulldoze me!” In sum, unpaid emotional labor is a service, not a right.

    We — David, Andy and Jane — mention this article for several reasons. 1) WKND is a feminist publication, with feminist ideals. 2) The work of an editor is not unlike the work of a female confidante.

    For the past year, we have produced an issue of WKND every Friday morning. In other words, we have gone to class (or lunch or work) on Fridays and seen our publication in unexpected places. Pulpy WKND in the gutter. Faded WKND in the Pierson courtyard. Food-stained WKND outside Atticus. Mostly, we’ve seen WKND in the hands of strangers — a sight that stirs up complicated feelings. First, we see these strangers and think: Thank God! Thank God the words and pictures actually left 202 York St., and moved into the boundless world beyond!

    Much of the work we do as Yale students is private work: papers we write for professors, jobs we hold for our parents, races we run for ourselves. Or, in Marxist terms, we’re estranged from our destinies and alienated from our labor, mechanistic cogs in the Yale machine that engage with texts, ideas and people for no good reason.

    But WKND has been a path towards Marxist self-actualization for its editors. To see a stranger read your newspaper is to feel a little more autonomous, a little more in control. We’ve seen the fruits of our labor, and (weirdly, inexplicably) felt closer to our fellow students (even to those who aren’t feminists). Though powerlessness often reigns supreme at Yale — we’re tired, we’re taking bad classes, we’re not getting enough financial aid — WKND has given a little power back to three disorganized, hopeful kids.

    Of course, as we watch strangers reading WKND every Friday, we could also think: That stranger does not know that I am the puppet master! I pitched, then edited those interesting articles. Unpaid emotional labor! Why work on something without pay, and without recognition? No one emails the editors telling us we’ve done a great job. (Full disclosure: We haven’t always done a great job.)

    But we do not have those thoughts. And here, let’s establish a distinction between the unpaid emotional labor provided by marginalized groups and the service provided by editors: it’s a question of vectors. (WKND always believes it’s a question of vectors). When a woman engages in conversation with a Bad Man — one on one, face to face — she often harbors illusions of reciprocity. Conversations, after all, often involve respect and empathy. Yet the Bad Man quickly disabuses her of this belief: She ends up stroking his ego, soothing his anger, suffering his insults, et cetera. Her conversational vector shrinks to nothing, while his dominates the “conversation.” (Proof that feminism is relevant: In May, a self-identified male feminist told Jane, “I only interrupt you because I care about you and our relationship!” At the time, Jane was too sad to explain why that sentence was not, in fact, a feminist statement. A Yale diploma and Judith Butler textbook do not a feminist make!)

    When we see a stranger reading WKND, we see that person’s intellectual vector engaging with the author’s intellectual vector. All we — David, Andy, Jane — did was bring the two parties together, facilitate the discussion. Each week, we have nudged our writers towards readers, then stepped back to watch the beginning of real reciprocity.

    So no: The editor’s work is like, but unlike, the female confidante’s work. The female confidante endures the failure of conversation, while the editor can sometimes spark discussion through unpaid emotional labor. The editor does not entertain illusions of mutuality, and therefore neither reader nor author has done the editor harm. To wit: Don’t pay your YDN editors, pay your female friends.

    This is our last issue as puppet masters, our last chance to bring writers and readers together. We love you, fellow cogs in the machine. We hope you pursue something (anything!) that makes you feel a little more autonomous, a little more in control.


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    Let’s play a word association game:

    Papyrus (featured widely on my 6th grade social studies worksheets).

    Platypus (an upscale pasta-and-salad chain restaurant I encountered this summer, in Singapore).

    Platitude (“a remark or statement, especially one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful,” Google told me).

    The opposite of a platitude, I think, is a Truism. Truisms go a little like this: “IF YOU HAVE MANY DESIRES YOUR LIFE WILL BE INTERESTING” or  “WORRYING CAN HELP YOU PREPARE” or “PAIN CAN BE A VERY POSITIVE THING.” Invented by neo-conceptual artist Jenny Holzer in the 70s, these aphorisms are bite-sized and always in all caps.

    One will fall into your lap whenever you need it. In detention? “YOU MUST DISAGREE WITH AUTHORITY FIGURES.” Trying to get on birth control? “THE DESIRE TO REPRODUCE IS A DEATH WISH.” Your roommate left your suite unlocked and now your speakers are gone? “PRIVATE PROPERTY CREATED CRIME.”

    Holzer originally printed them on broadsheets — white font, black background — and then left them strewn around Manhattan. Now they just mostly float around Tumblr, buoyed by the reblogs of bored and sad teenagers.

    Jenny Holzer’s Wikipedia bio says she is 65 years old. I wonder if Holzer receives Social Security benefits. And how much in royalties did she make from her collaboration with the Dallas Cowboys? (On sale, on their website: “EXPIRING FOR LOVE IS BEAUTIFUL BUT STUPID” on a shirt, “BOREDOM MAKES YOU DO CRAZY THINGS” on a cap.)

    Sometimes I begin to shelve whole chapters of my life according to Truisms. They become shorthand for embarrassing moments I’d rather not recount, personal failures of all kinds. For example:

    “SOLITUDE IS ENRICHING” is good when I’m in the library on a Saturday night.

    “TECHNOLOGY WILL MAKE OR BREAK US” worries me when I make a phone call. The missing chunk of glass at the top of my iPhone, with its remnant jagged edges, might cut my ear.

    “WORDS TEND TO BE INADEQUATE” is for my apathy as deadline approaches, be it for an essay or a View (like this one, perhaps?).

    “MONEY CREATES TASTE.” Some girl left a Canada Goose coat in my suite last year. She never bothered to retrieve it.

    “IT IS EMBARRASSING TO BE CAUGHT AND KILLED FOR STUPID REASONS” is a good way to think about the time I ironically (or not) rushed a recent addition to the Yale Greek life scene and didn’t get a bid!

    I’m getting too old for Truisms. I used to confuse Jenny Holzer with Barbara Kruger, a very long time ago. I am embarrassed to say I have loved “IT IS IN YOUR SELF-INTEREST TO FIND A WAY TO BE VERY TENDER,” because it spoke to me about empathy and opening up to people or something. I talk about getting one as a tattoo, but keep changing my mind. (Which one? What font?). A Truism gets a little trite sometimes, too.

    Maybe the feeling I’m having is a territorial one. A million other kids with laptops can parrot the same phrases as I do (“RAISE BOYS AND GIRLS THE SAME WAY”). No, you can’t have a connection with the same Truism as I do! (This is the way I feel about certain Karen Russell short stories, for example.) Never mind having a personal connection to an idea; how about being under the impression that I own it?

    * * *

    This is a different story:

    We jumpstarted a Zipcar with another Zipcar last weekend, after Sophie convinced the guy from customer service on the phone that we really, really needed to get on the road. It was already dark, and there were 10 of us, plus bags. We were sprawled in a corner of the parking lot.

    By all accounts, I am fairly absent-minded. Before we even got in the cars, while we were still four hours away from other Sophie’s house by the lake, I must have taken the bracelet off and left it on the pavement. It was a nice bracelet — rather, a necklace I had wrapped around to fit my wrist. Smooth, tiny red beads on string; a graduation gift from my aunt and uncle.

    48 hours later, after pulling back into the lot and parking the car and retrieving all our belongings, we sat down and waited for the other car of five people to arrive. Then I found a couple beads scattered amidst gravel. And then a few more! If I had to hazard a guess, I was probably the person who drove over the bracelet.

    I lose all sorts of things. Pens and water bottles and every Apple accessory imaginable. Sometimes my left contact disappears and I can’t see the lecture slides anymore; my sister sorts the laundry and all my socks end up in my mother’s dresser.

    “OBJECTS ARE MEANT TO BE USED UNTIL THEY AREN’T” is not a Truism … at least, not one penned by Jenny Holzer. But I said it to myself anyway, over and over, while picking up the beads from the ground.

  4. Between Perfection and Chaos

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    I was born blind to the traditional beauties of the world: crisp silhouettes against a fading sunset, precise letters on a blackboard, delightful constellations splayed across a tranquil night sky.

    I like to see things up close and personal. Here is my first memory — tomatoes dangling from a vine just in front of my nose, bright red with delicate tendrils reaching towards a light they cannot see. I remember thinking of how beautiful they were, so loud in their perfection, clear and sharp in my blurred world.

    The day I got my first glasses prescription came late, when I had already accepted my perception of the world and my position within it. I was eight and sitting in the back of the classroom because I was quiet and misbehaved, and then I realized that I couldn’t see anything. I could see the teacher’s hand grasping the white chalk and the arc of her arm as she scratched the chalk against the board, but I couldn’t see what she was writing. It was all blur and no meaning. I concluded that perhaps my way of seeing the world wasn’t correct.

    I lived in a world of imprecise edges and blended colors, of bokeh and halos. My universe was one life-sized, three-dimensional Van Gogh — in the foreground, objects were separate but, as they moved to the background, they melded into one continuous image. My imagination added detail to the unmarked landscape, as I ran around searching for clarity amid the colors.

    When the optometrist told me I was near-sighted, I found myself in a ball, crying inconsolably. The revelation made me feel as if a part of my existence were being rejected. Before that moment in the classroom, I thought I had perfect vision; no one had ever told me otherwise. I loved how I saw the world in all its blended glory.

    We are so often told that our bodies aren’t perfection but I found it so much more devastating to hear that my view of the world was wrong. I was only a 16 out of 20, not a 20 out of 20 and it had all to do with biology and luck, not personal fault.

    The day I saw the world clearly for the first time — saw it the way normal, 20/20 people did — was perhaps one of the most memorable days of my life. As I slipped on my glasses, the cool metal sliding along the virgin skin of my ears, the world suddenly shifted into an unfamiliar focus. I could see faces several feet away instead of a swirl of colors and dots. I could see the words on signs. I could see cars when I crossed streets. I could see the food on my plate.

    But still, I could not see what I wanted to see. I missed seeing lights as small, pulsating suns or leaves as mosaic pieces of a tree. I missed the mystery, details that only revealed themselves when I looked at them from a few inches away. I missed the comfort of knowing my world.

    I think it’s funny when people steal my glasses and put them on, squinting as their eyes try to adjust to my crazy prescription. But as much as the world bends and warps through the glass, they will never understood the universe I left behind when I got my first pair of glasses.

    But there are those small moments, when I first get up in the morning or just before I go to bed, when I return to that space. I guess you could say this blurred place I inhabit, half-way between perfection and chaos, is the only place I can truly call my own. My paradise of hazy landscapes and blurred skies.

    Contact Sofia braunstein at

    sofia.braunstein@yale.edu .

  5. Girl Talk: not just for girls

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    As someone who enjoys being around people but collapses into a puddle of nervous palm sweat in a group setting, I’ve always romanticized the notion of one-on-one conversation as a more meaningful, manageable alternative to that most fearsome of social conventions: chitchat. That’s probably why, at some stage in my boyhood, I came to the realization that relating to individuals on a disarmingly more intimate level provided for far more memorable and (for me, at least) enjoyable interactions than I could ever find in large groups. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the kind of conversations I sought out as a furrowed-browed adolescent — sincere, personal, whiny — were precursors to a tradition with which I would become intimately familiar here at Yale: the girl talk.

    “Girl talk,” despite the implied gender specificity, is not always shared by women, nor is it always about women. Instead, it refers to a specific variety of conversation, usually shared by only two or three people, on any of a broad range of topics. Stereotypically, girl talk revolves around relationships, but this probably isn’t giving the majority of girl talkers enough credit. Sure, hookups and dating provide plenty of girl-talk fodder, but these topics are often just gateways to themes like academic stress, insecurity, dissatisfaction with one’s present romantic or social situation, fear of the future, etc. In fact, a major trademark of girl talk is its ability to plumb surprising emotional depths within the context of low-stakes, informal, sometimes drunken environments. I’ve often been surprised at my own ability to tipsily articulate the existential angst I never even knew I felt, moments before abruptly dancing away when a Ke$ha song came on.

    It’s likely that many women actually find this form of conversation insufferable, just as many men like me (both gay and less gay) feel perfectly comfortable with girl talk. Still, media representations of men engaging in introspective conversations on personal topics are relatively sparse, while everything from “The View” to “Sex and the City” have led us to associate this particular form of communication with the feminine sex.

    In an ideal situation, girl talk allows all participating parties to share their feelings openly, often starting with more local topics like failed romances and job applications and escalating to weightier themes. However, it should be noted that the emphasis in any girl talk is on talking, not listening. This may seem like a cynical proposition, but I don’t intend for it to be. The comforting nature of girl talk doesn’t come from hearing others’ advice — it comes, in part, from hearing other peoples’ stories and taking solace in the fact that others are going through similar experiences.

    More importantly, girl talks provide a platform on which venting is not only tolerated, but also encouraged. A good drunken late-night rant is a wonderful way to Drano away the metaphorical bits of clumped-up hair and soap sludge that tend to accumulate in our psyches over the course of a busy week. A conversation consisting of mutual venting may sound tiresome and solipsistic, but sometimes we all just need to get things off our chests, and what’s the point of delivering a monologue with no audience? If you saw a wild-eyed man on the street ranting to no one in particular, you would think him insane. If you saw a wild-eyed man on the street ranting to a bored-looking female companion, you probably saw me last Friday. Next time say hi!

    However, this notion of venting also gets to one of the more unpleasant facets of girl talk. A good deal of social interaction involves relating to others by sharing your own experiences, and an adept storyteller can share a personal anecdote and make it seem entertaining rather than merely self-centered. But not even Homer could spin an interesting yarn about the overwhelming stress of applying for summer internships or the unfairness of having three midterms in the same week. Venting to someone else about how stressed or overworked you feel can, at least momentarily, make you feel a little better about being stressed. But it tends to have the opposite effect on the listener.

    The real danger of girl talk comes when we get so used to it that we can’t help ourselves from falling back on what essentially amounts to complaining when we should be having a conversation. The emphasis on sharing life details, whether personal or banal, makes girl talk generally inappropriate for most social situations. Good friends are great girl-talk partners because they’ve essentially signed up to get to know you on an intimate level, but not every stranger at a party wants to be on the wrong end of your emotional colonic.

    In essence, girl talk may serve a vital therapeutic purpose, but it doesn’t provide for much levity. And sometimes a little levity is far more therapeutic than any late-night emotional reckoning. Consider engaging in girl talks on an “only-when-necessary” basis. Not only will this generously keep your friends from picking up any of your residual anxiety, it’ll keep you from overstepping the fine line separating catharsis and gratuitous mood dampening.

    Thanks for listening.