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Making Myself Heard: The story of my Reader internship

Written by The Reader, 6th April 2017

Today we say goodbye to our wonderful Reading Resources Intern, Nikki. It's been a joy having her with us and she's been kind enough to write about her experience here at Reader HQ in Calderstones:

Being an intern at The Reader has been a real eye-opener.

Having always had a love of literature, I was really excited when I heard about the internships. I had left university a couple of years back with a degree in English, so thought I knew something about literature. Coming here showed me a whole new world of reading, and I rediscovered poetry.

Me & my dad on graduation day

From my university days, the only associations I had with poetry was as a student being required to cover them in analytical notes, picking out features and trying to find a meaning.

What we’d never really done, and I don’t know why now, was sit down as a group and read the poem out loud together. If we had, perhaps we could have understood the poems better, or put voices to them. Poems, I’ve found here, can really help you to feel a little better on a rough day, make you smile and laugh amongst friends, and make you think.

I visited a nursing home during my time here and watched the group leader read the poem My Grandmother’s African Grey by Matt Simpson to her small group of residents. It was lovely to see the residents recalling memories of Liverpool together as they listened, and it felt nice to be a part of it, to listen to their stories. The poem juxtaposes ‘my grandma’s Liverpudlian/wash-house talk, her lovely common-/as-muck’ with ‘Auntie Bell’s posh how-d’you-do’s/that froze you to politeness’ – lines that induced a lot of chat about the old times, about living on “Scotty Road”, and where the posh places in Liverpool were. On hearing I was from Crosby the group declared I was of the ‘posh lot’ which made me smile very much. I also read them a poem, A Barred Owl by Richard Wilbur which makes owls seem almost human, with the lines:

" We tell the wakened child that all she heard
Was an odd question from a forest bird,
Asking of us, if rightly listened to,
“Who cooks for you?” and then “Who cooks for you?” "

As I read these lines aloud, the residents all laughed, and I felt a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. It was good to know that I could do this, and with something so simple.

I suffer from a condition known as CAPOS Syndrome, something short for a lot of long words that even I don’t know how to spell. This has left me deaf, partially sighted and rather wobbly in the balance department (asking me to bring in more than one cup of tea is a disaster waiting to happen!). It’s all I’ve known my whole life, and I really don’t mind it. I see the world in a different way to everyone else, I spend a lot of my time observing movements and facial expressions, rather than overhearing conversations.

But I’ve spent a lot of my life saying the words ‘what?’ and ‘pardon?’ in a desperate desire to hear. It’s been a tough old ride, and every day I face a new challenge. Someone with an unusual accent might be trying to make conversation with me, and I’ll be blushing to the roots of my hair and looking everywhere but at that person in a bid to escape, just because I really can’t hear. I could be sat in a busy environment with a lot of background noise, and I’ll be on mute, because if I don’t talk to anyone then no one will try to talk to me, and that means I don’t have to ask them to repeat themselves over and over.

I struggled through school because students have the tendency to be rather cruel to each other. Daily I had ‘can you hear me?’ mouthed at me. I could very well hear that they weren’t speaking to me at all, but lacking in confidence I could only mumble ‘yes.’ Even teachers were not always understanding, I had one who told me I should try listening in my lessons so that when he asked me a question, out of the blue, I would know the answer.

My dog doesn't seem to share my love of books!

I lost myself in books though, they became my sanctuary. I could imagine the sounds, the tones of voices, the rippling of the sea, conjure up characters from the descriptions in my head, make friends with them. As a young child, I spent a lot of time sitting with my mum or dad on the sofa, listening to them reading picture books, with all the expression and actions required to bring them to life, and I loved it.

In school, teachers told my parents that I was painfully shy, until I read aloud, and it was there I shone, my voice full of expression, with some actions thrown in. While sorting through children’s books at The Reader, I came across Mister Magnolia, which was a favourite for me and my parents, and went home to tell my dad. He immediately attempted to recall the story from memory, and I was most impressed to see he remembered most of it! It made me think how we ingrain stories in our minds, and associate them with good memories, like my dad who thought of the joy of his children’s faces as he read Mister Magnolia to them.

Finding my own path into work has been really hard though. After applying to be a care assistant in a nursing home, my manager had promised that if it worked out well, I could become a carer, but first made me a cleaner in order to ‘help me gain confidence’. They later told me they had thought I would only hang around for a month or two and then be gone. I was made to feel unhappy there so I left to start a new job, as a cleaner in a mental health hospital, only to be told after just five days that the ward manager was concerned I was a danger to myself, if I couldn’t hear what the patients were saying. ‘It would be best if you left,’ he concluded. After I signed the papers to leave, and handed back my uniform, I set off home on the bus in a stunned silence. Was this what it was going to be like for me, never able to find something I enjoy, because I was deaf? I’d hoped that working in a caring setting would mean there’d be no discrimination. It seemed I was wrong, and I was left feeling almost no faith in myself.

My cousin, my granddad and me

My Granddad was a stoic man who I was immensely proud of and had always spoken to for advice. I had once told him that I wanted to be a writer someday, and he said to me ‘you can do it, kid’, and would read my stories, give me feedback, and send copies to his brothers. I knew that no matter what I did in life, he would be behind me all the way. Sadly, he passed away a few years ago, and I wrote his eulogy, conquering my fears of public speaking to do him proud. People kept telling me afterwards how wonderful my speech had been, how they could never have done it themselves. I felt proud of myself then, and knew, just as my Grandad always said, I was most definitely able.

And so, it was with the memory of my Grandad saying ‘there’s no such word as can’t’ that I arrived at The Reader, a nervous wreck at my interview, clutching the book Grace and Mary by Melvyn Bragg. This book opens with one of my Grandad’s favourite songs to play on the harmonica, ‘Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do…’ and I read this to Kate and Grace, my would-be mentors, and talked about what it meant to me.

To my utter amazement, the next day I had an email saying they would like to offer me the internship. I admit that I hesitated to respond because I was still scarred from my previous experiences. What if I got there and found I was too deaf to do anything? What if people thought I was odd because I didn’t join in? Would I have to use the telephone? The panic was high, I asked advice, and people said I should do it because I may never get another chance. So I did, and I don’t regret it one bit.

I’ve spent the past four months discovering literature I’d never seen before, poems, short stories, novels and essays, and meeting lots of brilliant people. I’ve sorted through almost endless boxes of children’s books, which have brought back memories; learnt how to use spreadsheets to organise books, and written some summaries for short stories. It’s been fascinating and I’ve loved every moment. Working with Grace and Kate has given me a real insight into working with resources, and they’ve introduced me to some really interesting pieces on the way. In particular, I loved reading the poem Poetry by Eleanor Farjeon with Grace during one of our catch-up meetings:

" What is Poetry? Who knows?
Not a rose, but the scent of the rose;
Not the sky, but the light in the sky;
Not the fly, but the gleam of the fly;
Not the sea, but the sound of the sea;
Not myself, but what makes me
See, hear, and feel something that prose
Cannot: and what it is, who knows. "

It really made me think a lot about poetry, and how beautiful it actually is. I began to focus more on how poets described things, and how the poems made me feel inside. At first, I found it difficult to discuss poems with anyone, as my university brain was telling me to count stanzas, look for rhyming couplets, what sort of poem was it; but as time went by I was able to start thinking more clearly about what the poems could mean, and how the poet might want us to feel. I noticed that nobody seems to read poems the same way too; we all have our own opinions and this makes Shared Reading all the more interesting and lovely.

Being able to participate in all of these activities, from Shared Reading, to supervising volunteers with filing and sorting, and communicating with people all over the office and outside it, has made me almost forget that I have a hearing impairment. It’s great to see that a disability doesn’t necessarily have to hold you back from your dreams, that there is always a way round it. It doesn’t define you, you are whoever you want to be, and being here has helped me to realise that.

Being here has helped my confidence to grow so much, not only with communication but also in myself. I feel stronger, happier and more eager to try new things. I would even go as far to say that I’m pretty proud of how far I’ve come while being here, it was a big step for me and I’m glad I took the risk.

It's been such a pleasure having Nikki with us and we're so grateful for all the fantastic work she's done as Reading Resources Intern. And it's wonderful to hear that it's been such a positive experience in light of the troubles she's had with work placements in the past. We know she'll go on to bigger and brighter things!

The Reader run internship cycles throughout the year, you can find out more details on our website. We'll announce new vacancies and internships through our social media channels, follow us on twitter and facebook for all the latest news.

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