When one is asked “What is the most important moral principle in ancient philosophy?” the immediate answer is not, “Take care of oneself” but the Delphic principle, gnothi sauton (“Know yourself”).
Foucault, Michel. “Technologies of the Self.”, edited by Luther H. Martin, Huck Gutman and Patrick H. Hutton, pp. 16-49. Univ. of Massachusets Press, 1988.
Having deliberately avoided social media for the last ten years, I finally joined Twitter in July 2017. I dabbled with Facebook when it was first launched but didn’t care for it, still don’t. Usually, the first thing I do when trying something new; is to turn to a book. In this instance, a bit like getting into cold water, I just jumped. At first, I splashed around wildly. Gradually, I managed to find a steady stroke. At times, the tweets rained down like bullets, at others, they swelled and peaked in a storm of emotion and unmet need.
My comments were often naïve, sometimes silly?; a testing of the water. A bit like a drunk at a party, I would stagger around, pleased to be there, barging in on other’s conversations, making inappropriate comments. I have learnt by making mistakes, I’m still making them.
Why did I join Twitter?
I was driven to Twitter by a need to communicate. Having spent the last few years trying to support my dyslexic son, I wanted to help others, to connect, to share information (my first profession was as a librarian, after all). Having worked in schools, I could see how unhappy many teachers were and how some children can be overlooked, dismissed and written off, especially those with dyslexia.
I had many questions: Why was dyslexia ignored? Why was it so difficult for schools to listen to and work with parents? Why weren’t schools doing more to support this, fairly common, difference?
I am someone who is solution-focused. I would rather do something, try anything, than to do nothing.
It was my husband who suggested Twitter and now I have no memory of the conversation. I had been working on a resource for teaching time with a friend and I was going to guest blog about it. In the end, she said ‘You do it’! I’m a self-confessed technophobe but it’s surprising what you can do when you have the motivation. Within weeks, I was on Twitter, with my own blog – I was finding my voice.
Having learnt about how speech and language difficulties are linked to dyslexia, I now realise this is something I’ve struggled with my whole life. From a matriarchal family of dominant women (I grew up without a father), it was hard to get a word in! My elder sister was/is funny, charismatic and I was, well bookish and ‘quiet’. I was PAINFULLY shy. I would have a huge physical response to speaking in public or to strangers: sweaty palms, shaky voice, red face, rashy neck.
That person is not me. The person that worked at the BBC for nearly 20 years is not me. The person that got married is not me. Having children, actually giving birth, cracked me open like a nut. Giving birth was the most wonderful, primitive experience and afterwards I was not the same. Like the Bionic Man, I was rebuilt and was stronger, with the heart of a lion. I would die, kill, for my children.
I gave up work in order to care for my children and I took redundancy. It was not a huge sacrifice as I was not thriving at work. In a fast-paced, ambitious environment, I was like a fish out of water; lacking in diplomacy and sophistication. As someone rather harshly put it, I had been there so long, I was like a ‘piece of the furniture’.
I have strived to be present for my children, have delighted in their questions and encouraged them to ask more. I’ve been happy for them to take risks; climb trees, get muddy, experience the world. Now, at 9 and 11, their needs are slightly different and evolving. Through my interest in dyslexia, I’ve started to reclaim a small part of myself, albeit linked to my son.
Now, in the final year of an MA in SpLD (Specific Learning Difficulties/Dyslexia), I have loved being a student again, not something I had ever imagined. I don’t think I have ever stopped learning and researching. My being a student has been something the family has had to honour and make time for. Often, this was hard to carve out. The family is so used to my availability.
I thought I married a ‘modern’ man who understood women’s rights, was respectful of women and he is. The reality is though, when a woman stays at home, the power dynamic shifts. A woman will and does do anything for her children and with this comes vulnerability. I knew that my life would change more than my husband’s but as he had a very successful career, it didn’t seem that losing mine was such a great loss. It really wasn’t.
What I hadn’t realised was the loss of a sense of Self that would come with that. Gradually, my sense of Self as an individual became absorbed by the children and my husband. I poured everything I was into the family mould, I was lost inside it. My husband likes to say that if I hadn’t married him, I would be a spinster, at home with my mum. Would I??
So, I joined Twitter initially to communicate about dyslexia. I wanted to make people aware of the strengths associated with it; critical, Big Picture thinking, emotional intelligence, resilience…I could go on. So often, educators see only deficits and of course, scientists find them easier to measure. I would retweet those posts which supported this message. Eventually, I would start to compose my own tweets; share research or teaching strategies and have conversations or discussions.
From the feedback; the responses, the ReTweets, the likes and followers, one starts to get a sense of how one’s ideas and beliefs are regarded. I’ve learnt so much on Twitter; about human communication, belief systems and power. I’ve learnt that certain debates are not worth having because some people hunt in packs and seek only to browbeat others, some seek only to further entrench their own views with no thought of trying out a new perspective, something new. Some will go with a popular view in order to gain likes and followers, they like to make proclamations and state absolutes, have loud voices.
I do have an addiction to Twitter and have used it almost every day since I joined. I am ridiculed for it by the family of course and accused of wasting time on it.
I’ll be fifty this year, half a century, I’m still working out who I am. Like Nan Shepherd (The Living Mountain), I’m not thinking about distance but depth. Soul-mining.
I started to follow more than educators and those promoting a positive view of dyslexia on Twitter. I started to follow those interested in nature, mindfulness, yoga, publishers, libraries.
What was I doing?
I was creating a Suzanne-shaped form there, a virtual space where I could reclaim, rebuild a sense of Self, rediscover my passions. A virtual self, an avatar.
As someone who has always found it hard to cut through in group chats, in the pub or around the dinner table, my words now had to be heard. They had power. They would hang there suspended and go out into the world on the wings of a tweet, indelible. Through tweeting thoughts and getting feedback, I am constantly reflecting and reconsidering. I do not agonise over composing tweets, they are often an instinctive response, heartfelt. Perhaps I should be more careful, I will not care too much, I will not ‘play to the crowd’.
If I thought too long before sending a tweet, I would be paralysed by indecision. My advice is:
Jump in, the water’s fine.
Thanks to @sputniksteve for getting me thinking about this: