Advanced Essay #2 by Gavin Lane

How Literacy Has Affected me Over the Years

Literacy is defined as “the ability to read and write.” A literate person is someone who “possesses the ability to read and write fluently.” As for me, I would define literacy as an infinite series of word-doors leading outward to the world around you--and an infinite series of word-doors leading inward to yourself.

Literacy has always had a great effect on my life--it is my life. In fact, one could even say I was born to be literate. My brain was born to decode language. I was able to read when I was just 18 months old (or thereabouts), three or four years before most children begin to read. As a toddler in a stroller, I read the signs I passed on the street and shouted out their meanings. “Parking” and “Exit” were favorites.  I read newspaper headlines and memorized children’s poems without trying. These acts came naturally, like breathing.

As a person with Asperger’s, I believe this was a blessing. I have depended on written words to tell me how people think and function socially, because I can’t always make sense of this with my own eyes and ears. How do people know when and what to say to one another (unless they obviously need to speak up to accomplish something immediate)? Social communication, apparently so easy for others, is a mystery to me. Luckily, books and articles on social behavior have helped me learn some of the answers to these questions.

Also, the written and spoken word have communicated to me other rules for functioning that I can’t sense otherwise--wonderful rules about everything from the workings of the universe to how to organize time. This in turn has imposed a certain structure on a world that can seem chaotic at times, too rich in sensory input for me to organize, and this has given me peace of mind. Beyond that, though, literacy has given me ideas to guide my thinking and learning. Knowing how to read has helped me develop a political philosophy, a good sense of humor, and inspiration for my future. From sections of The Communist Manifesto to sections of The Art of the Deal, reading and grasping literary passages has influenced the creation of my own political philosophy, or political system, if you will, which I like to call State National Socialism. Through reading, primarily of documented traditionalist works discovered online, I have pieced together a philosophy that states that nature has a long-standing, ordained, and traditional order that must be preserved. Tradition, Biology, and Environmental health are crucial. My philosophy also states that capitalism is unhealthy because it causes people to turn from compassion for the environment and for one another to the false idol of profit at all costs.

Without the ability to read, not only would I not have crafted my philosophy, I would not have built my sense of humor, which is mostly based around pictorial memes now, but got its start in reading. This sense of humor, which deals with things from politics all the way to lewd humor nowadays, goes as far back as fourth or even third grade, when we had to write funny stories for class, and sometimes even draw pictures for them. I loved how laughter made me feel, and how a simple story with a silly and unexpected twist or ending could bring about a giddy feeling--and totally improve a so-so or even dismal day. This precious sense of humor found expression in memes as I got older, but is fundamentally based in words and is the joyful result of being able to read and write.

And speaking of writing, this aspect of literacy is equally crucial for exploring and defining yourself. You don’t know what you know until you try to write about it. Somebody once observed, “writing is thinking,” and this is true. Sit down to write anything, from an email to a research project, and when you try to explain what you know, you realize you actually have more questions than knowledge. I remember reading an article by the NY Times that said “Writers, especially younger writers, often hear the exhortation ‘write what you know’. This is understandable. Some of the best fiction ever written seems to have followed that advice.” The act of putting thoughts into the structure of words forces you to make sure you really, totally understand those thoughts. This reminds me of another quote I read in that same article. It says “You should write what you really know instead of a slick, bowdlerized version of what you know.” This is how you really take advantage of the situation, so you can really put that knowledge into writing. This is important because writing is a bootcamp for thoughts, forcing them to shape up, and forcing you to deepen and strengthen your grasp of a subject.

So, without literacy I would be a very different person. Certainly I would be very diminished without it. I would not have the knowledge that I possess now about the world around me and how things work, but much more importantly, I would not know what I believe, and love, and value. Ironically, it is literacy, with its window into the the thoughts and beliefs and ideas of others, that somehow opens a door to your own thoughts and beliefs. It shows you what you identify with, from politics, to religion, to personality, to whatever provides a good laugh. Without the written words of others to lend structure, your own personal beliefs would be an unarticulated mass within yourself, an unexplored and poorly defined forest of impulses and seemingly random thoughts. This is why I say literacy has a way of shaping one’s knowledge into a state where it is intellectually beneficiary. So, yes, words can be definite, bossy, and demanding, but ultimately literacy is a kind of magic that conjures up your path and your life.