The Deception Of Perception

It had been slightly more than a decade when I returned to Chicago to go to music school. Not long after settling into my dorm room, I jumped on the L and headed north to the suburb of Evanston to revisit the first neighborhood I remember calling home.

After a breezy ten-minute stroll from the station, I spotted my family’s old house from a block away – a sprawling, two-story red-brick structure on the corner of Ridge and Monroe. I was bolder in those days, so I knocked on the front door and was amazed to discover that the woman who answered had bought the house from my parents. She even remembered me (despite the fact that I had only been eight years old when we moved away) and invited me inside for a tour.

It was like walking into a recurring dream – everything looked remarkably unchanged. At one point we cut through the garage to head to the backyard, and the breath was knocked out of me. I saw my first name scrawled in white chalk on a wall across the room. It was written backward.

I remembered the moment when I wrote it. I was in second grade and my teacher and parents were trying to get to the bottom of what was clearly a learning disability. I was having trouble reading, differentiating between letters and numbers, and writing without mirroring characters. I was sent to an educational psychologist at Northwestern University who ran a battery of tests. In the end he concluded that I would never graduate from high school.

Naturally, my folks wouldn’t accept that idea, and continued pursuing the issue until they found another specialist who offered a different diagnosis: I had dyslexia.

I spent the next year studying with an educational therapist who was among the earliest to specialize in correcting this often-misunderstood perceptual problem. But while I was able to return to school and graduate with decent grades, the presumption persisted among educators and family members that I would never be particularly strong at reading or writing.

So I accepted the idea, and set out to pursue a creative career that didn’t require either of those skills – namely, drumming. After struggling for more than a decade to become a professional drummer, a very odd thing happened in the late ’80s. Through a series of unpredictable events, I was given the opportunity to edit my first drumming magazine – Drums & Drumming.

With literally nothing to lose, I dove into the work and found to my utter astonishment that all the experts were wrong. I not only had a knack for writing and editing but, in fact, I actually excelled at it. This epiphany changed the course of my life and gave me the determination to overcome a number of obstacles, both professionally and personally, many that I thought I’d never surmount.

Here’s my point. Don’t let anybody ever tell you that you can’t do something, even if the advice comes from a person whose opinion you respect.

I believe you can do it. You owe it to yourself to believe it, too.


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