The Sum of It

upon this link
was like being
kissed hard…

This week I was doing research for my novel, and all of a sudden I had tears on my face.

One of my fictional guys is Terrence Yee Fat. He’s a biracial, bisexual Jamaican man mostly because I need him to represent the kind of duality, the straddle, immigrants sometimes feel, do. I’m in the middle of a scene where he’s cooking, and I wanted him to have a slight [tag]word-retrieval problem[/tag]. Why? No good reason—other than when I’m the least bit distracted, my brain will perversely not fetch the word I need.

I love to blame this occasional tip-of-my-tongue problem on the code-switching I’ve had to do since, oh, when I was pre-verbal, probably. Jamaican toddlers learn a patois dialect in tandem with English. In our house, as in many households, the parents disapproved of the patois and corrected hell out of our grammar, pronunciation, accent.

So, I move to these United States and what happens? Language gets even more complicated. I need to remember to pronounce words differently. Sometimes my mouth still says, “ceme-tree,” instead of “ceme-tery.” Sometimes it says “lef-tenant,” instead of “loo-tenant.” And, of course, vocabulary changes on me. I remember bitching, in one of my first letters home, that in America a roll is a bun, a bun is roll, and a biscuit is a cookie. Also, what would be the American word for the patois, cotch, which means, like, to share a small space with someone?

See what I mean?

Factor in, now, that my people habitually say the generic “ting deh” (“that thing”) as a kind of placeholder for something whose name is not known, or has been forgotten, or stays undelineated out of laziness. It’s like the American, y’know, “whachmacallit.”

Okay. So, in researching this word-retrieval ting deh, I discover that there’s an official name for this problem. It’s a learning disability of sorts: [tag]Dysnomia[/tag].

Can I tell you? Stumbling across this link was like being kissed hard, sweet, long. For also here, was a list of other learning disabilities.

And, finally. Finally, I found….myself.

My whole life I’ve wanted to know EXACTLY why math is Sanskrit to me. Why I consistently misdial telephone numbers. Why I cannot read a simple compass to save my stupid life.

Think not being able to do basic math was fun? My father, God rest his soul, used my younger sister’s math skill to shame me into applying myself harder to my sums. An older sibling asked me why I was so dumb; I was already twelve years old and could not read a damn clock. A very reasonable man I was dating yelled harsh and very ugly because I couldn’t tell from the map what the next Interstate exit would be.

I’m over here playing my little violin while I give you a minute to feel bad for me.


We all have things we can’t do. I know that. But I had a moment of absolute, shoulder-lowering relief I felt when I found that I suffer from [tag]Dyscalculia[/tag] (“dis-cal-cew-lee-ah.”) [tag]The Nalanda Institute[/tag], I thank you. Thank you, BBC. Thank you, [tag]Wikipedia[/tag]. Thank you, [tag]LDA of America[/tag]. Thank you, Dr Bjorn Adler[/tag].

Difficulty giving and receiving change? Yes!
Easily disoriented (including left/right orientation) Yup.
Hard time learning musical concepts? Yeah.
Following directions in sports? Please. You don’t know.
Keeping track of scores and players during games such as cards and board games? Help me, Rhonda.

Oh, God. Diagnosis and validation. A dunce mi nuh dunce after all.


[tags] Jamaican patois, Ting Deh, cotch, Rasta/Patois Jamaica Dictionary

This entry was posted in Blog!.

2 thoughts on “The Sum of It

  1. Hi lady.

    I’m so happy that you found das Dingsbum that explains your frustration.
    What a relief!!

    mucho love, sugarstick!

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