Lab Report

Earlier this month, an article about Dyslexia appeared on Like most Cracked articles I’ve read I clicked and power-skimmed, browsing for a hook to see if the article was worth reading. Real Dyslexia is nothing like you think? Okay… Charlie in Always Sunny? I can see that. 37 symptoms? (open in new tab, continue skimming article) Problems concentrating? Poor motor skills? Hm. Tangential, obtuse contextualizing, crappy short term memory, Glorious Extra Color™ long term memory? Wait a minute…

Poor twitch aiming (fine motor skills), never diagnosed, frequently assumed to be stupid or lazy… skim the rest of the article. Public school sucked, check. Constantly tripped up by the “weirdest things”? Yep. Feeling very “wait a minute…” I had a look at the symptoms, which turned out to be the kiddie list but lead to a list of common characteristics of adult dyslexia which isn’t so much a list of symptoms as it is my personality in list form. The missing piece, a grand unified theory of mental health, from a Cracked article.

I’ve been thinking of writing this post or something like it since I read that article. I looked at the symptoms and had a good long think about them and meditated a bit about what applied, how it applied, and how I’ve gone this long without any sort of diagnosis. As of this writing I’m in my mid 30s; I have struggled with mental health issues throughout my life and it never once occurred to me that dyslexia was a thing to look at.

Maybe because I was assessed with college level reading comprehension in third or fourth grade and in school dyslexia had a reputation as a reading disorder – reading being the one thing I had an obvious talent for. Reading, yes. Spelling, no. I still to this day screw up certain commonly used words and use spellcheck and the dictionary regularly – I misspell with complete consistency, as if the word has been recorded incorrectly and set to read-only. Ask me to diagram a sentence and I’m going to have to look up the definition of what an adjective is, what a noun is, what a predicate is, etc. and if you ask me to do it again next week I’ll have to reference the cheat sheets again but reading a thing and telling you what it’s about? Done. Unless it’s a word problem, in which case I’ll be in the back of the slow lane smelting blocks of symbols into blocks of other completely unrelated symbols, as the “turn words into math” process runs at about a tenth of whatever regular speed is. They’re different languages, see, and I’m better at the one that’s made out of words.

Before I proceed with the post as planned – a quick rundown of the Cracked list followed by a cherry-picked breakdown of the symptoms list – I feel that at least some biographical context is necessary, as it goes a long way to explaining how “dyslexia” was never considered.

(cue flashback sequence)

My school district gave everyone in first or second grade an IQ test. My sister and I got the same score – high enough to be placed in the school’s enrichment program. Between that number, my obvious knack for reading and writing, and my sister’s natural talent for maintaining a high GPA without {seemingly} breaking a sweat I was deemed “lazy,” an “underachiever,” a “screwup,” and was constantly told to “try harder.” In public school I was penalized repeatedly by some teachers for performing at grade level, the punishment often delivered with a sadistic “I know you can do better.” It was, and probably still is, a commonly held belief that being good at a thing means that you are equally good at all things if you try hard enough.

I have plenty of case examples – enough for a couple of seasons of David Cronenberg’s Degrassi High, if that’s ever a thing. I believe the above paragraph gets to the point without belaboring it – I was deemed to be smart, I did not fit the smart mold, problems arose and the situation was handled as “smart kid acting up” instead of how it probably should have been handled. I can only infer the should now, recently, having familiarized myself with the common characteristics of dyslexia. Again, the missing piece, a grand unified theory of mental health. It’s like the climax of Fight Club or finding out that Gir was the turkey all along.

Actually it’s kind of a lot like that. Only not. Everything’s different, nothing has changed.

I was going to run through the article but in the process of stripping out headers to elucidate on it became clear to me that the list is more relevant. The cues and clues I got from the article are already discussed above, and the article is more focused on the academic end of things than the here-and-now business of adulting, which is an ongoing concern of mine. School? That’s over. I’m going to be adulting until I run out of alive. That matters.

There’s one bit from the article I do want to write about in more detail, and that’s the big “hey wait…” for me, the clue that sucked me in and prompted me to read the symptoms list. Reflexes. I’ve struggled with shitty reflexes my entire life; they range from just plain Not Good to visibly time delayed, depending on what I’m doing. I screw up inking pretty much continually, which is why I spend so much time redoing inks in Photoshop. I can’t control it – my hand just jumps on occasion, or will suddenly steer itself in a different direction unbidden. Before developers started adding software handicaps to “simulate” “realism” in first-person shooters I was averaging around a 40% accuracy rating in games that recorded bullet hits – since the addition of camera inertia and “realistic” walk/sprint animations, weapon weight and especially the drag/wobble handicap in Fallout 4 my accuracy has plummeted to around 10%, if that. I tend to turn off camera inertia, head bob, and all of the other “realism” because I don’t like being artificially bad at a thing I am naturally bad at. It doesn’t read as realism to me, since I’m already bringing the realism in the form of a janky, jittering cursor. I’m a bad shot, and not just with virtual guns – I can hit the target but if I want to get anywhere near the bullseye I need sandbags or a bipod. Mouse sensitivity? I have a sweet spot for that, somewhere above Bethesda defaults and somewhere well below most shooters. It’s the same thing with art – I just can’t do precision without the pen tool and a 200-400% zoom. I have been trying since 1997 and the best I’ve been able to do is fewer mistakes, and that’s only if I block out a huge chunk of the day (we’ll call that chunk of time “the day”) and really take my time with it.

I don’t have to be good at a game to enjoy it, fortunately – I’m well inside the target demographic for “casual” and “rookie” difficulties, at least in shooters. Art, on the other hand, is another matter entirely. One of the reasons ATC production has slowed to a crawl is that I’ve been piling on more and more compensation techniques to assure a quality product – what you see on screen now looks better than what you were seeing ten years ago in part because it takes about five or six times as long to produce. I struggle to keep eye lines and hair lines straight; I continue to have issues with shoulders and noses and mouths and other details of human anatomy and keeping characters on-model but by getting it right once with a 3d model I can keep the broad details consistent between shots so that’s how my style has developed. I build detailed 3d models to work around the fact that I can’t seem to generate consistent accurate visual information without props or reference, and I use them to throw accurate shadows and to produce perspective-accurate line art. It works but it’s very time consuming and not exactly fun. The comic is where it is because I’ve refused to give up on it, and have developed a number of strategies and techniques to leverage things I’m good at (software) to support things that I continue to struggle with (line art).

This post is a bit wordier than anticipated – my inbox is silent and it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a couple of weeks so I suppose that stands to reason. I also haven’t talked much on social media or IRC recently; it feels like I have a natural word quota that I’m behind on and I’m now hurtling towards the minimum at high velocity.

This post is so lengthy that it’s become my second use of NextPage – the first since the 2013 build log.