Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The hidden benefits of Dyslexia

The term 'dyslexia' was first coined over a hundred and twenty years ago to describe students who had no deficit in intelligence but were nevertheless having difficulty acquiring literacy. It seemed a logical name. Dys-lexia. A problem with words.

Since that time, studies of dyslexia have naturally focused on helping dyslexic children lean to read and write. No surprise there. Get 100 dyslexics together and you will indeed have a crowd of people who have experienced difficulty with aspects of literacy. But look more closely and other quirky characteristics are revealed.

For example, many of the 100 dyslexics will have difficulty naming their left and right sides. Some may have problems reading the time from an analogue clock. Tracking the flow of time, short term memory and remembering names could also be an issue. Over the years researchers have been able to identify a cluster of such non-literacy-related problems.

But if you do get that group of dyslexics together and give them time to talk and compare notes, other commonalities start to emerge. For example, dyslexics are often very creative. They are lateral thinkers and problem solvers. Given a complex set of interrelationships, they easily see the whole picture and get to the root of issues. Many are able to read other people's emotions with stunning clarity.

No surprise then that so many successful people from the world of creative arts and the world of entrepreneurial business turn out to be dyslexic. Enhanced ability to think in three dimensions is another common attribute. Thus the ranks of top architects are also rich in dyslexics.

If we were to ask our group of 100 dyslexics whether they would like to be 'cured' of dyslexia - having the problems AND the advantages simultaneously removed by swallowing a pill - what would they say? What would you say? For me it would be an emphatic NO.

Not so much a learning disability, then. More a learning difference that manifests as disability in some situations (particularly in school) and manifests as a prodigious ability in others.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

The difference between Story and Reality

What is the difference between story and reality? According to Mark Twain: "Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn't."

Tom Clancy made a similar observation: "The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense." However, he also commented on the overlap between the two: "I've made up stuff that's turned out to be real, that's the spooky part."

In his superb filmmaking masterclass last month, Chris Jones said: "The brain cannot tell the difference between a story and reality." That is why we cry watching a sad movie and scream watching horror. He also said: "Stories are about communicating truths not facts."

My take on it is this: Reality is a tangled knot made from an infinite number of threads. The full blinding complexity and intensity of it is available for us to experience in the 'now'. But as soon as events have past and we look back on what has happened, we start to order our memories into a narrative. From the tangle, we extract a single thread. That becomes the reality of our past.

As storytellers we do the same thing - extracting one thread from the mass of possibilities, cutting it to make a beginning and cutting it again to make an end. Then we present that to our audience.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Podcast extract from Vintage by Maxine Linnell

I recently had the pleasure of recording Maxine Linnell reading an extract from her new time-swap novel 'Vintage', in which a contemporary teenager swaps places with a counterpart from 1962.

I'm podcasting the recording here, partly to recommend the novel (which is excellent) and partly to experiment with embedding audio files in blogger - which I hope to do much more of in the coming months.

For those of you interested in the recent technical discussion of microphones and field recorders, this recording was made on my Sony Z1 camera, and not with the Marantz PMD661 - which I hadn't bought at the time of recording.

Note: As I write this additional note, the podcast link has stopped working. The audio file hosting site seems to be down - so that is probably the reason. I will clearly have to look for other solutions.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

New Microphone

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the Marantz PMD 661 field recorder. I'm still extremely pleased with the way it works with my Rode shotgun microphone. That covers my film making needs. But I do intend to use the recorder for audio interviews in the near future, and realised that a different kind of microphone is necessary for that.

For that usage I need an omnidirectional rather than a shotgun microphone. I also need it to have shielding to prevent all that nasty handling noise. I don't have a background in audio technology, so need to rely on reviews to guide my choice of equipment. This was fairly easy with the field recorders - which are extensively reviewed on the Internet. But with microphones I had a harder time. It seems that very few people choose to review microphones. Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised to discover that.

I eventually decided on the AKG D230. I managed to buy a second hand one on Ebay - which should arrive sometime in the next couple of weeks. When it does I will offer my own very inexpert review.

As for the question of what audio interviews am I intending to conduct - it is connected to my interest in dyslexia. I'll say more about that in a future blog post.