Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tom Will Never Be Good at Art: WTF is Dysgraphia, Anyways?

Internet; It's 4:15 and I'm just now starting this week's post. It's not because I've been working on other projects or I struggled to find inspiration, no. It's because I rediscovered Mega Man games and am currently in the throes of a huge retro game kick. It all started when my sister and I decided to try and beat the original Mega Man together. We had a blast because It really is a genuinely well-designed game; a fact that sometimes gets lost over the years of unblinking fanboy worship. This lead to me remembering that I had a longstanding nemesis in Mega Man X, which had sent me packing in the intro stage every single time as a kid, so of course I had to try it again. Now I'm browsing sites for some of the more obscure NES classics because oh my God guys; I forgot how good these games were. Expect this latest obsession to manifest into a SSSBP at some point in the future, though I couldn't tell you exactly what yet. It's a secret. Even to me.

No. No, we are not making that joke. Everyone has made that joke and we are not aw shit we just did.

Not many super fun links to post this week, but in the spirit of me rediscovering Mega Man, here's an entertaining series where two friends play through Mega Man 7. I hold them partly responsible. Also here's a live action fan video and another one that's feature length, both of which have surprisingly high production quality, fan videos as they are. Also, MovieBob did a video explaining all the Robins ever, which is handy considering even I got confused by it now and again. This last one had nothing to do with Mega Man, but it's about Batman so you know what? It's close enough. Because Batman.

Batman says time for the post. Here's the post.

Tom Will Never Be Good at Art:
WTF is Dysgraphia, Anyways?

Let me bring you into the realm of the hypothetical for a moment. Let's say you see a really awesome bird that you've never ever seen before. For the sake of argument, let's say you've never seen a bird in your life before and it's this bird:

You're floored by the majestic...stubbiness of this bird. You want to, no, you have to share it with the world.  Because you're now suddenly Amish, you're without cell phone or flashy camera, so you have to draw it. Thankfully, the bird is happy enough to just sit there and chill, so you break out some paper and a set of colored pencils and start to draw. After more than an hour of work, trying to get as many details as you can, you look at your finished product.

This is actually one of my better attempts.
This isn't the result of a lazy five minutes in MS Paint, it's an engrossed, concerted effort over an extended period. This is your level best and it's never going to get any better. Your hand is cramped, you're mentally tired, and you can't show it to your friends because even you can tell it's fuck ugly. You even get someone else to take a picture so you can trace over it because at this point it's not about the bird anymore; it's a matter of pride. Even with a perfect guide and lots of time though, you can still only manage something a third grader might produce on one of their less-than-careful tries. No one, even the ones you explain it to, will ever fully understand your inability to draw this bird, it will follow you for your entire life, and every time you have to write something down, you're mentally aware that everyone who reads it will be judging you on your ability to form proper t's while they struggle through it. This is a very rough idea of what it's like to be me. 

Dysgraphia is categorized as a learning disability that doesn't affect intelligence but inhibits the ability to write, particularly concerning handwriting. It comes in any combination of Dyslexic; poor spelling and reading skills, Motor; especially awful handwriting, writing fatigue, and poor fine motor skills, and Spatial; a poor understanding of space and difficulty drawing and copying. Personally, I'm about two parts Motor, two parts Spatial, and one part Dyslexic, though that part hasn't bothered me for years.

The sensation isn't like anything I can really accurately describe because I just haven't found a good approximation. It's like your brain sees something it wants to reproduce and plays telephone down your nervous system to your hand and by the time the image makes it down there "Squirrel" has turned into "Poorly-Rendered Lovecraftian Horror".

H. R. Giger
"Dude, that's some badass H. R. Giger monster shit! Awesome!" "...That's my mom..."
It's a thing that's followed me since I first had to learn how to read and write, which happened almost embarrassingly late by the way. I've got friends who claim to have started reading young adult novels by the first grade. In the first grade I was still leaning over to the girl next to me to ask her what this "D-O-G" nonsense was. In the second grade my teacher called me out in front of the class to ask me if I could read what I had written on the spelling test. Due both to the fact that my handwriting was at least three times as horrendous as it is today and I was still just coming around to this "letters" concept, I wasn't able to recite the words to her and received a failing grade. That day I took home a paper with a big, red zero on it (which I couldn't reproduce) and I didn't have a single goddamn clue what I did to deserve it.

I've got a whole collection of stories just like that involving other teachers, my fellow students, and both of my parents. Someone wants me to try to write or draw something and I can't and every time it happened I grew increasingly concerned that maybe it wasn't just because I was a kid and kids suck at this stuff. That's how bad it was, the seven year old was giving half-assed excuses even he didn't believe. At such a young age, I got to experience the kind of self-doubt and denial that most people don't get until right before they drop out of college.
Nah, I'm going back next semester for sure; just had to find out who I really was first. Turns out I'm a talentless hipster.
Thankfully, the year of the spelling test incident was the same year I got diagnosed and things started to slowly get better from there. I got into some therapy that worked with me on my writing and reading comprehension and truth be told, my handwriting didn't get any better but it almost didn't matter; the inherent negativity of it was heavily assuaged and suddenly no one was so uptight about it. Teachers were informed that it was a work-in-progress and weren't allowed to punish me for it anymore, my parents weren't fretting about trying to teach me the theory behind the ideal 'o' and the other kids...well, they still gave me shit for it, but now I could tell them that it wasn't my fault because I had a really good reason and that reason was a word I couldn't spell, write, read, or pronounce. They still gave me shit about it because kids are awful creatures towards anything they think they can assert themselves over but I felt better at least.

Looking back, I'm fantastically happy that I got diagnosed when I did, or even at all. I'm acutely aware of how dysgraphia can be dismissed as not trying hard enough, a failure on the teacher's part, or even just good ol' fashioned being stupid, a struggle that many people with the more common but harder to metric Dyslexia can testify to. If my parents hadn't listened to the crazy counselor--against the advice of my teacher, if memory serves--and I had never been diagnosed, I probably wouldn't be in college and I may not have even made it out of high school. That guy in the picture up there with the crustache? That would have been me, plus a McDonalds uniform.

Note the sideways cap. This is because I would have resorted to awful rap music in my frustration and definitely not because I couldn't figure out how to draw it straight.
The quality of my handwriting would very slowly, but steadily increase over the next several years. I'm more or less comfortable with how it is, even if I have to preface every semester by telling all my professors that I may have to occasionally translate for them. If I write very very slowly, I can even work up something approaching a slightly disheveled normal person (The introduction letter for the blog is a great example of this, though keep in mind that those two pages took three hours to write) My artistic ability however...Not so much. These days it's about the only thing about my Dysgraphia that really bothers me, mostly because I've found workarounds for everything else. My Dyslexia was minor enough that it was eventually trained out of me, same with my motor skills, though they took a lot longer to get only a fraction as far. To this day though, I still can't translate any sort of space, either 2D or 3D, onto a page and I still haven't found any sort of therapy or education that can train my brain to do so.

My Dysgraphia doesn't make me self-conscious anymore, and that's great, but I can still feel it holding me back. For the last three years I've had a working concept and script for a comic that I haven't been able to realize because I can't draw it and haven't been able to find anyone else willing to. It's a lot of work and I'd be willing to do it all myself because it's a passion project more than anything else, but I can't and that drives me absolutely mad. I've struggled with trying to adequately describe things because requests to "Just draw it" couldn't be fulfilled. I've failed every art class I ever took that based its grades on proficiency and barely survived through the ones that graded on improvement. Mostly I've just accepted that I'll never be good at art, being forced to rely on the number of artistic friends I keep around for just that purpose.

Norman Rockwell
Artistic friends, now might be a good time to tell you that this is the only reason I keep you around. You have no other redeeming qualities.
I was talking to a cute girl recently about how my entire life was more or less just a stupid series of coincidences and ironies. When pressed for examples, I found myself lacking in very recent occurrences, not because they don't happen but because after 21 years of that bullshit you just stop noticing. After the fact I realized I should have told her that the one of the most pervading, constant ironies in my life was that because of a learning disability that inhibited my ability to write and read, I developed a lifelong passion for writing and reading that shaped me into the person I am, right now, as I write this blog post and influenced me into my current educational and career path as a literature major, historically heavy in both writing and reading. If it wasn't for my dysgraphia I wouldn't have had to develop stronger critical thinking skills to try and puzzle out words I couldn't work through the normal way, nor would I be nearly as good at writing as I am, due to the sheer amount of it I did to try and make up ground on the other kids. I am literally a walking, talking irony.

It probably still wouldn't have gotten me a date with her, but I still feel pretty good about it.

Thank you, Goodnight.


  1. That bird actually is not half bad and would be considered minimalist art, essentially art where you are trying to capture the basic essence of what you are seeing. If you expanded on that image more, lets say you add a person at the base of the tree it could make a nice book cover.

    examples of minimalist Star Wars art;

  2. Hey, hey you. Stop ruining my analogy by complimenting me.

    That bird actually did turn out way better than I was expecting, somewhat perturbingly so; it seems my hands don't cooperate even when I'm trying to exemplify their failure. I almost didn't use it because of how closely it straddles between "Bad" and "Just bad enough." I blame my overuse of the paint can tool. Clearly I should have filled that shit in by hand. Darn you technology! *shakes fist menacingly*