The Literacy of My Life...So Far

The word literacy is simply defined as the ability to read and write by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. But I find this definition lacking. You may ask why. Well, the truth is that the ability to read and write means absolutely nothing if one cannot understand or comprehend what he or she is reading or writing. This definition means nothing if one cannot analyze or read between the lines. This definition also fails to tell how we learn how to truly use literacy to the best of our abilities.

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Warning: this tale is in no particular order. In fact, it is a random timeline of literacy moments in my life. Some are big, some small, some hold significant meaning, and some don't. But in the end, they are moments that helped shape my ability to read, write, and understand.

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I remember when I was younger, around two or three, I received a series of books. I'm not sure what the books were called, but each letter had its very own special book. In each book there would be different pictures in alphabetical order showing examples of some words that begin with the letter. I remember in the F book there was the word French fries and the pictures were of French fries making a capital and a lower case f. I thought these books were so cool back then. My favorite book of course was the letter J. The reason was simple enough; my name starts with the letter J.

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Ja Leshea was not the easiest name to learn how to spell but I managed it eventually. It was one of the proudest moments in my life. A lot of people would not see the ability to spell their name as a literacy achievement worth mentioning; I think they take the little things for granted. There are so many people in this world who don't have this ability so I cherish it. Now if I could only figure out how to spell my middle name without having to Google it or call my mother I would be fine. Funny thing is, its Delores (yes, I Googled it and called my mom to double check).

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It is always nice when people can find a mentor who can have such a major significance in their life. I can say I lucked out in this situation, because I found my mentor early. In 6th grade I met Alfred Richard Doss. Mr. Doss was the English and social studies teacher for 6th graders at my former middle school. Before him, I could only remember being assigned to read books and stories that did not prove to be a challenge for me. This man was the first person to assign me a novel, the first person to suspend me, my first and only favorite teacher, and the person that made me see that reading is more than just what the words on the pages say but the ability to think deeper. At one point I wanted to be a teacher like Mr. Doss. I'm not sure what I was thinking then. Mr. Doss even allowed me and my friends in 7th and 8th grade to teach his younger students English. Looking back on it, I'm not really sure we taught anyone anything. In fact, to this day, if I wanted to I could still go to see him. There is no way that I could ever repay this man — my favorite teacher — back for all he has taught me.

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Have you ever listened to music? I mean really listened? Have you ever listened to a song a hundred, a thousand times and each time heard something new? It happens to me all the time. I'm not going to lie and say that every song that I listen to has a deep meaning or is speaking out or telling about something important or even positive. But sometimes when listening to music, I have found myself analyzing more than the words that are being rapped or sung but instead their deeper meaning. I remember my mother telling me something that was quite powerful it went sort of like "Isn't it funny that when we're happy, we hear the music but when we're sad, we are able to truly listen to the song and understand what the song is saying." Songs like Queen's, "We are the Champions," Linkin Park's, "Powerless" or Kansas', "Carry on my Wayward Son" are all so straight forward in their meanings. But sometimes you need to listen to more than the tone of the artist's voice, the lyrics, the music, or the instruments used. For instance, Jean-Luc Ponty's, "Individual Choice" or Miles Davis', "Tutu" which has no words. There can be a deeper meaning found; you just have to be able to make the connection and understand what it is. See, that's how something oh so simple such as listening to music can present us with a literacy moment. Why? Because reading and writing means nothing if we cannot understand what is truly being said or written. And whether we acknowledge it or not, music plays a large role in how we learn, think, feel, and understand the world around us.

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In the 5th grade we would receive Scholastic book order forms. It was in one of those order forms that I was introduced to one of my favorite book series ever. That series was Jim Bean's Dear Dumb Dairy. The series is about a middle school girl named Jamie Kelly and her crazy life, adventures, and just growing up. Each book spans a month's period of Jamie's life. The first book I read was Dear Dumb Dairy My Pants are Hunted! Well these books are how I figured out that I loved reading. I loved the simplicity and the creative style that the books were written in. It was the first book that I came across where the writing style was not just boring words on a page. This is a very important literacy moment to me, because I discovered the joys of reading.

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When I was younger, my grandmother would watch my cousins, brothers, and me. This was probably the one place where we could watch almost anything we wanted on television for however long we wanted. My parents and aunts made sure we went outside and played, which was fun but could get boring. They all had this idea that television would rot out our little developing brains. Which may be slightly true when I think about it. But I digress. I bet they never imagined that watching television helped us learn. Yup, we sort of learned how to read in order to figure out what we wanted to watch. We read the TV guides. It even taught us how to spell (even if it was just the names of our favorite television shows). You must remember, it's the smallest things that count. We were reading before other children in school and it was thanks in part to television.

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According to Merriam-Webster, poetry is the writings of a poet or something that is very beautiful or graceful. I'm not sure if I would completely agree with that definition and neither would my Godmother Rose. I remember as a young child, we would sit in her living room and everyone would pick out and read the silliest poems from this book called Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. I loved the time spent reading this collection so much that I begged my mother to buy me the sequel Falling up when I was in the 5th grade. I had a teacher in high school, Mrs. Hyde, who made poetry complex. In fact, all throughout high school the poetry we were forced to read was dark and sad. Rereading these poems taught me that some poems may require one to find the hidden messages (those ridiculous and boring poems we read in high school) and what is not being said, and some poems are just simple (Silverstein's poems). There is no need to figure out the meaning. It is just silly words meant to be taken at face value. Poetry does not have to talk about death or be sad in order to be poetry. Not all poetry is graceful. It can be silly and fun. No tricks, no secrets, no complexities, no death or gloom. Just simple and easy to read poetry.

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The list of literacy moments is never ending. It is made up of the smallest tasks such as learning to spell one's name or checking Facebook or Twitter posts, to important tasks like going to college and succeeding in a career. Literacy moments are just moments when we learn a little more. To list all of them would be impossible and take a really long time. I end this paper saying that these stories are just the literacy moments that have come and there are many more that I have yet to experience. I see in my future even more literacy moments, from paying bills on my future mansion, to writing out lab reports for my fellow psychologists and social work colleagues and filling out forms for work when I perform psychological experiments. Remember that the ability to read and write means nothing if one cannot understand or comprehend this big crazy world that we live in.


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