Friday, December 28, 2012

The Cellist

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who loved music.

In this girl's school, all 2nd graders learned to play the violin. In 3rd grade, they could choose to continue in Orchestra, either as a violin or as another stringed instrument, or they could quit.

The girl HATED playing the violin. Due to a host of medical problems, it caused her physical pain to stand and hold the instrument under her chin and the bow upright. (It probably didn't help that she was rather tiny for her age and the violin, in comparison, was kind of huge.) However, she loved the sound it made, so in third grade she decided to switch to the cello.

Her primary reason for doing so? She could play it while sitting down.

It was obvious to anyone who saw her lugging the gigantic instrument around that she loved it dearly. The cello was taller than she was, and quite heavy, but she managed it cheerfully. When she sat to play, she was good.

Her schoolteacher noticed her skills, and suggested to the girl's parents that she should get a private teacher and also audition for the local youth symphony. The girl did, and got in. Most of the other kids were older, about sixth grade, but the girl was at about their level.

However, the orchestra was much more rigorous than her music class at school, and soon the girl had so many pieces to memorize that quality suffered on all of them. For you see, the girl rarely practised outside of school and rehearsal. She just didn't, for whatever reason.

Her teachers noticed the downswing in quality. They lamented about her potential greatness, if only she would practice.

By now, the girl was in fifth grade. The stress got to be too much for her, and she quit the Youth Orchestra. For a while after that, it was easier. Still, she didn't practice. Her schoolteacher began giving the class more difficult pieces, and the girl gave up. She quit cello in October of her sixth grade year.

She missed the Christmas concert. She watched her classmates perform, and realized that she would rather be onstage than in the audience. Less than three months later, she was back. She loved the cello, but the class was sometimes a drag. She gave it one last shot. The first month of seventh grade, she couldn't take it anymore. She told her teacher she was done with the cello for good.

She didn't look back. She took an extra art class and helped in the library instead. Everyone was shocked. She was good, why did she quit? The few adults who knew she never practiced wondered why she didn't just practice more.

It wasn't until her sophomore year of high school that the girl told her mother the truth: she couldn't read music.

Sightreading, such an important part of an instrumentalist's life, was impossible for her. She was good at the cello only because she had completely memorized the finger placements and bow movements for every single song she'd ever performed. Music was a foreign language to her, despite the fact that she'd been studying it for years. It was incomprehensible, and she didn't know why.

Her mother was shocked. (Actually, she was a little more impressed by her daughter's memorization capabilities now.) She understood now why so many more pieces in such a short amount of time meant so much more stress for her daughter. However, she still didn't understand how the girl's inabillity to read music related to the fact that she never practiced. The girl couldn't explain it, and it remains a mystery.

No longer a mystery, though, is why the girl couldn't read music. The girl's parents discovered that she had a learning disability called "dyscalculia," which can manifest in an inability to read music and problems properly judging distance, among others.

As you've no doubt figured out by now, that girl is me. We discovered that I had dyscalculia only last week.

I was actually quite surprised to find out that I had this problem. I thought that my inability to read music was just a personal failure, maybe just laziness. I'm glad that it isn't my fault, but I'm also sad because I will never be able to understand it, no matter how hard I try.

It's like being told to translate a paragraph, sentence by sentence, into English. I look at the first sentence. It's German. I start translating the first few words, and look back at the paragraph to double-check. The sentence is now in Arabic. It is endlessly frustrating.

I've figured out workarounds for some of the problems dyscalculia has caused me, but some I just have to accept.

This post has gotten super-long, so the second half of this will have to wait for another time. (I'll be talking about "disabilities" and why I don't like the word.)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Crayons of Love

A couple of months ago, I boyght a pack of bathtub crayons. I bought them so that during NaNoWriMo, I could write down all of the brilliant ideas I got in the shower. Well, I never used them for NaNo purposes. Instead, I use them mostly to write reminders to myself on the countertop in the bathroom.

Whenever I forget to put them away after I've written my reminder (which happens a lot), in the morning I'll find another note or picture next to mine. My mum comes in after I do, and whenever she sees the crayons, she'll write me a sweet little note. She's started doing this with my whiteboard markers on my mirror too, and unlike a lot of kids I know, I don't find it annoying.

In fact, next year, I'll really miss it.

So, Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate it, and if you don't, have a great week. Enjoy your family!