On the Alexander Google list server group, it turns out that I’ve gotten a reputation for being able to explain things that others find difficult. So I thought that I would explain how I can read something that has lots of confusing or unfamiliar words in it and still get something out of what is being said.
My ability to read came at a late age – seven. My parents prevented me from learning to read early because they guessed that my ability to imagine would not have the time to form and express itself if I learned to read too early. This probably was true – at least in my case. The effect as an adult was that I am still able to use words to explain concepts that are not completely connected to language until I consciously make the connection. Images and feelings I have are able to be expressed in other ways besides words.
So, predictably enough, as soon as I learned to read at seven, I was overly eager to try it out on anything and everything that could be read. I could not get enough of reading. At seven I took it upon myself to be regular fan of Ann Landers, an advice columnist who was published on the same page as the comics. I was also reading the many Tarzan novels, by Edgar Rice Boroughs that were in my brother’s room.
There were many words in these books that I did not understand and had never heard anyone use in speech. So I thought quite a bit about what they probably meant as I skipped over them. I looked at how these mystery words functioned in the sentence and attempted to judge their relative importance. If they were qualifying words, well, that was more important than an adverb or a descriptive word of what was happening in a sequence when I could understand some of the other words. I came to realize and invent interesting ways to find out what a word meant besides just asking someone else or looking it up in the dictionary.
For instance, if the word seemed to be a descriptive word, I tried these words out in normal conversation and looked at how grown up people reacted.
Because of this, when I encounter reading that I’d like to do (such as a paper on the Polyvagal theory,) I fall back on using my old tricks. In practice, one of my actual strategies would be that I would mentally leave a “blank” in the spaces where I’d run into a word(s) that had an unknown meaning. Then once I read the sentence, I’d guess what similar or vague words that I actually knew would suffice to belong in the blank spots. Sometimes I would diagram the sentence to distill it down to its most simplistic forms so I could understand what function the words might have to the meaning.
This strategy works really well when you’re doing something like reading F.M. Alexander’s books. I’ll let Catherine Kettrick, who has a degree in linguistics and is also an Alexander Technique teacher from an Alexander school called the Performance School in Seattle, WA, give an example from her website “study guide” section at http://www.performanceshool.org
To read Alexander’s long sentences with understanding, you have to be willing to go a bit slowly, figure out the subject and verb, see the different clauses and figure out their subjects and verbs, and hold them all in relation to one another til you get to the end of the sentence. To do this, it is helpful to answer the question posed by each clause as you go along. For example, here is the first sentence from the second chapter of The Use of the Self, “Use and Functioning in Relation to Reaction:” “The reader who reviews the experiences that I have tried to set down in the previous chapter will notice that at a certain point in my investigation I came to realize that my reaction to a particular stimulus was constantly the opposite of that which I desired, and that in my search for the cause of this, I discovered that my sensory appreciation (feeling) of the use of my mechanism was so untrustworthy that it led me to react by means of a use of myself which felt right, but was, in fact, too often wrong for my purpose” (p. 39).
Taking this sentence apart we find “The reader (subject) will notice” (verb). What reader you ask? “The reader who reviews the experiences…” What experiences? “…that I have tried to set down in the previous chapter…” So: “The reader who reviews the experiences that I have tried to set down in the previous chapter will notice…” What? “…that at a certain point in my investigation I came to realize…” Realize what? “…that my reaction to a particular stimulus was constantly the opposite of that which I desired…” Here is the end of the first major thought grouping in this paragraph. The “and” is used to mark the division between the two major thoughts in the paragraph. “…and that in my search for the cause of this, I discovered… ” Discovered what? (Here comes the second major thought) “…that my sensory appreciation (feeling) of the use of my mechanisms was so untrustworthy that it led me…” Led me where? “… to react by means of a use of myself which felt right, but…” (Pay attention– “But” signals a contrast–) “…but was, in fact, too often wrong for my purpose.”
Then again, if you don’t really understand a subject that you want to know more about, you can probably search the web and find someone else who will explain it to you in a way that you can understand. If you still don’t understand it, you can probably find a tutorial about it on YouTube.