By Lisa Mason Ziegler
Acting out—a sign of future greatness?
Now I see it. My acting out in school was a result of so much good stuff bottled up inside that I couldn’t handle it. This is the image I see as I look back through elementary to my high school years.
College? Are you kidding me? I felt like a prisoner in school. Under constant pressure with no control over my own circumstances. Why on earth would I choose to continue this torture when I was counting the days to escape, whoopsie… graduate from high school. And I barely made it out.
Hi, my name is Lisa and I am dyslexic. Until my adult years, I never knew that there was a name for it. I never knew others struggled with what I faced. What seemed so easy for others was a struggle for me and others in my own family. It was only as an adult that the pieces began to fit together.
It started when my sister Suzanne called. She had just watched a documentary and through her breaking voice tried to tell me— it was our life, our story. And others had it too.
When she arrived for work the next day on my flower farm, we went to her desk and watched: The Big Picture, Rethinking Dyslexia. She was right. It was us—hook, line and sinker. We watched it several times, with tears. Slowly, relief and affirmation began to seep in. After work, I watched it over and over. To this day it still helps me to watch it and hear others talk about dyslexia. Because I still face daily challenges. I need to be reminded that there are others, and no, we are not “normal”—we are extraordinary.
“Delightful child that needs to apply herself, talks too much, needs to practice reading and writing more, always in the middle of trouble, and often leading the way. Lisa expresses no fear.” These are the comments teachers shared with my parents through my school years. How many hours did I sit at my Dad’s drawing table (a dyslexic too) with graph paper practicing writing my letters over and over….
I didn’t really understand that I couldn’t spell. My first rude awakening as an adult was at my job as a receptionist at a very busy veterinarian hospital. A big part of that job was passing written phone messages on to the doctor. Oh boy. I was mortified when Dr. H came to me and said, “You are the best receptionist I’ve ever had. Because of that I’m saying this— you cannot spell, I’m going to correct your notes for your eyes only to help you, not to criticize.”
Major turning point in my life. From this experience I became more aware of the problems I faced. Until then it had just been filed under Lisa struggles to read and needs to improve her writing skills.
One vivid memory happened in the 3rd grade. I once again had gotten in trouble for talking. My discipline was to stay in during recess and write 25 times on the blackboard “I will not talk in Mrs. Hamner’s Class.” I could not write the sentence exactly the same over and over. I tried so hard, but the more I tried, the worse my sentences got. She saw this as defiance. With each error she added more times I had to write the sentence. I never succeeded. I remember little to nothing else from elementary school.
I grew into a “handful” in middle school. Joined the wrong crowd, because the right crowd was involved in things like advanced classes and the yearbook club— things beyond me.
In high school I learned how to keep my head down and get through the classes so I could graduate. While my friends were talking about SAT tests and college, I was silent.
I worked at that veterinary hospital for 15 years and went on to manage the office of 4 doctors and about 16 support staff. From bookkeeping to counseling pet owners and employees, it was not a job for the faint at heart, I thrived doing it. The crazier it was, the more I loved it. This prepared me for the rest of my business life. I learned the business by doing and seeing, exactly the way I, a dyslexic, was built to learn.
After making the jump from dogs to gardening and then straight into farming, I had a hankering to share and write about what I was doing. Having a computer with spellcheck almost made this possible. While folks seem to associate transposing letters and numbers with dyslexia, it is so much more than that. Grammar, what the heck is that? I have no understanding of nouns, verbs, and adjectives. I’d rather eat worms than have to face this issue.
In spite of no working knowledge of grammar, I began scratching words out in an effort to share about this journey of becoming a successful flower farmer. That’s when I connected with a life-long family friend, Susan Ackerman. I had written something that was going to be read by a wider audience and thought I should have it proofed. Susan, a professional writer, offered to look over my work.
This was the start of an amazing journey for me. I was now an adult, aware that I faced issues, and had a need or drive to figure it out— not just to get out of school but for self- affirmation of this thing I wanted to share. Susan’s gentle and simple corrections and explanations helped me to recognize and begin to self correct. Susan is still my personal editor on many projects, in fact she will proofread this article. Because I almost always do all things last minute, you may find some of my writings without her “tweaking my words,” as she calls it. Susan says that’s okay, because the power in my writing is already there in my thoughts and facts and images. All she does is smooth out the mechanics.
A note from Lisa’s editor Susan Yoder Ackerman:
I always got in trouble at school for talking, too, just like Lisa. But I could spell. It seemed like I was born to recognize what a word should look like and how a sentence should flow. Reading and writing were what I did for fun, and when I grew up, writing became my profession as well.
Lisa is so good at speaking. She instinctively knows how to draw people in and teach them new insights into gardening. She knows how to mix humor with facts—how to lighten up and get a point across. These qualities are exactly what makes good writing as well. And so, when Lisa shoots me an article to go over, I can count on the quality. All I have to do is tweak the wording and the spelling and the grammar. Put an –ly on an adverb. Repair a redundancy. Correct a misspelling. I don’t revise and rewrite. I tweak.
There is no ego involved in this. Lisa never complains about my changes. Sometimes I think she doesn’t even read them.
For me, there is joy in taking her work and making the meaning just a little more accessible to the reader. It truly is an honor!
It is her having my spelling/grammar back that gave me the courage to submit a book idea based on a popular talk I’d given for years. That was my first published book in 2014, Cool Flowers with St. Lynn’s Press.
I wrote a book! I can’t tell you how stunned I was to see my words in print. In a book. Unbelievable.
I continued to excel as a speaker sharing about what I was doing on my flower farm. My ability to share the good and the bad, ups and downs, and my mere screw-ups made me a candid and factual speaker.
In 2016 I was offered a second opportunity to write a book, Vegetables Love Flowers was published in 2018 by Cool Springs Press. Again, I had the courage to tackle this project because I had Susan at my side backing me up on paper.
When I received word that Vegetables Love Flowers was awarded the Silver Medal Award by Garden Communicators International, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe my peers recognized my work; the highest honor possible in my eyes. That I’m a peer in a professional writing circle in itself is amazing to me.
I’m sharing my thank you response to the award news below. This award has made me stand taller and renewed my interest in sharing my story to encourage and educate others. Thank you GardenComm!
Thank you so much for this good news! Beyond being so honored to be recognized by my peers I must share that this is beyond any dream I ever allowed myself to even imagine. To win an award for a book I wrote…totally amazing. Because of my dyslexia, until about 10 years ago I rarely wrote a word. But through the gentle pushing and instruction of a friend that is a professional writer I started on the journey of sharing what was rolling around in my head. While I used to be ashamed of my struggle to read and write and thought of it as a handicap, I now know that dyslexics have powerful gifts that normal folks just don’t have. I share this at every opportunity to empower kids and parents struggling with dyslexia. Dyslexia has been such a gift for me and others– powerful speakers that speak from the heart and some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world are dyslexics. It gives the power to pursue journeys that others only dream about.
This award is the icing on the cake of life that is affirming my journey. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all that made this so.
Who knows, maybe dyslexic folks are the norm and the rest of you are broke? Remember, acting out can be a sign of greatness.
P.S. A great TedX talk for more insight: The True Gifts of Dyslexics
Lisa Mason Ziegler