By Devon Wilkinson
Being a dyslexic editor-in-chief with ADHD is like being a color-blind artist with Parkinson’s disease trying to mix a particular shade of green. It is like trying to clean a filthy floor with a vacuum that is on the verge of losing its suction. It feels futile, but it is possible.
For the last 10 months, I have experienced recurring nightmares of missing deadlines that have woken me up abruptly with cold sweats. While my peers enjoyed themselves at bar crawls and seasonal formals, I spent my senior year restlessly editing and occasionally crying over a keyboard in a little back room behind the vacant Farmers Market. This isn’t exactly how I expected to spend my senior year.
Freshman year, all small and meek, I wandered into the High Point “bubble” uncertain I belonged. Ann Shelley, a freshman from Wisconsin and the current opinion editor, persuaded me to accompany her to an information meeting regarding the university’s student newspaper, the Campus Chronicle.
I have loved to write since I was a kid, and I felt I had nothing to lose.
The conference room seemed packed with eager and dedicated journalists. When the story list was posted, I was compelled to volunteer before all the good story ideas were taken, but I was compelled to cover any story that would give me an excuse to venture off-campus.
For my first article, I was directed to the center of town to attend a community garden groundbreaking. The town mayor spoke about the first step towards eliminating our city’s food desert status. I stood in a cluster with visiting school children to witness and by the time I left, I was inspired.
After the next Chronicle meeting, the news editor at the time, Alexis Ancel, sat down with me to review my work. I wanted to impress Alexis. This was the first time I had let anyone read my work.
“You are obviously such a talented writer,” she said. She sounded so sure I convinced myself to believe her.
In the months to come, I ended up declaring English as my second major. And by the second semester of my sophomore year, I was offered the position of the news editor. Unfortunately, my rise as a writer was short lived.
There is a precise distinction between being a writer and being an editor. Writers are the imaginers; they are the artists. They are the devout storytellers, and they are the ones whose words will live on. Editors are the cleaning crew that tidies up the mess after an artist’s work is done.
Editorial work is very humbling. I struggled. But by putting in the effort, investing the time and devoting the energy, the fog shielding my desired direction began to clear. When I wasn’t editing someone else’s work, I was writing the reject stories that needed to be covered. At the same time, I got to witness students with a passion for language blossom into practicing writers. My initial passion for writing metamorphosed into something greater. Being the news editor taught me to take more pride in the work I could help others create instead of the work I created myself. I became devoted to helping others discover the fulfillment I was able to achieve through creative expression.
Over time, I learned to love the job. I considered it paying my dues and the more I worked, the more material I had to write about when I could write for myself again. But even then, I felt like I was missing something.
It is so easy to get caught up in our daily routines. To focus only on our own responsibilities, our own priorities. The bubble is a very comfortable place. But when has comfort led us to wondrous enlightenment?
A professional writing class introduced me to the Community Writing Center. The CWC is an afterschool literacy program where HPU students tutor children from neighboring public elementary and middle schools in the basement of the Mt. Zion Baptist Church.
Three days a week, HPU faculty and community members, students and devoted learners come together, just outside the bubble to build a better community. Kids helping kids is a beautiful thing.
Growing up with undiagnosed learning disabilities, formal education has always been the source of my greatest insecurities, but working at the CWC made me see the purpose of my struggles. Channeling life-long hinderance into situational advantages is one of the best ways to truly accept ourselves for who we are.
My senior year, I was offered the position as editor in chief. I accepted because possibilities excite me, but I couldn’t adequately prepare myself the pressure of a “chief ’s” responsibilities. Painful backaches and sleep exhaustion, strained eyes and finger cramps are all side effects from staring at a computer screen for over seven hours straight.
After submitting my first draft as the editor in chief, I felt like a marathon runner who had just collapsed at the finish line. My boss sent me a message of congratulations on completing my first issue, but it was two days before I could respond because my eyes were so weak.
But, I learn as I went, as we all must do. By the second issue, I had bought myself glasses to cancel out the blue-light from my computer screen; by the third issue, I splurged to get the InDesign software on my own computer so I wouldn’t have to make the hike to the newspaper office every time I had to make an edit. And in time I started to get to know the strengths and the weakness of each particular writer, I knew what mistakes to look for and where to look for them.
However, during vulnerable moments I would find myself reciting Alexis’s words in the quiet of the empty office.
“You are obviously such a talented writer. You are obviously such a talented writer.” I must have repeated the phrase to myself a thousand times before I realized I no longer care. I will always love writing, but that day, Alexis helped me counteract almost two decades of built-up feelings of inadequacy. If anything, I wanted to be more like her. I wanted to inspire instead of being the one in need of inspiration.
My dyslexia and ADHD might have failed me during timed multiplication reviews and the school-wide spelling bee in the third grade, and the fourth grade, and the fifth. But my dyslexia and ADHD didn’t fail me when I was trying to understand the thinking process behind my writers or when I was trying to uncover creative learn- ing strategies for the children at the CWC. I was always meant to be the person I am today, but if Alexis had never taken the time to review my writing freshman year, I might have never have become an English major. I might have never become an editor. I might have never have ventured out of the bubble.
I owe so much gratitude towards my bosses Pam Haynes and Kaylee Billings for their earnestness in reviewing my final edits, and I owe much gratitude towards Alexis Ancel for the push.
Writing for the Campus Chronicle has been the defining reason why HPU was the right school for me. It has
been beyond my pleasure to have had the opportunity to work alongside talented editors: Ally Ortolani (organizations editor), Drew Henderson and Jack Murphy (first and second semester A&E editors), Ann Shelley (opinion editor) and Collin Giuliani, our talented sports editor who will be heading off to law school in the fall.
Reading the work from flourishing writers like Nicole Prince, Faith Foushee, Julie Burkett, Sarah Dahlberg and Katrina Zrubek was an aspect to the job I did not expect to enjoy as much as I did. I have no doubt all these intelligent women will achieve exceptional things in the years to come.
Last year while I studied abroad in Scotland, Nick Bainbridge took over the news editor position for me. He has continuously proven himself as diligent, and dependable and the rightful person for the position of editor in chief for the 2018-2019 school year. I have no doubt Nick will produce extraordinary work for publication; he has never given me a reason to consider otherwise. Leaving the Chronicle in great hands makes moving on a little bit easier.
It may just take a bit of support for the colorblind artist to achieve exceptional things. Sometimes all it takes is a little piece of tape on the hose of the vacuum to restore suction, and some- times an encouraging confidence boost is all that is needed to help someone pursue a better version of themselves.
In my time working for the Chronicle, I decided I wouldn’t mind being the support for the colorblind artist, and I learned that I could be that small piece of tape that fixes the vacuum hose as long as I could contribute to something, or someone, greater.
And as I go forth, I will stow my lessons and memories from the last four years like weapons of defense against the uncertainty to come.