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Sanctuary of Words

Alexa Leigh Corbett ’15 discovered the beauty of language, and words became her sanctuary.

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Alexa Leigh Corbett ’15

During my primary education, I didn’t understand why reading was such a struggle. Everyone around me seemed to have such an easy time. It looked so effortless as they recited words off a page with pride. How’d they know what to say? I wanted that power, but for me, words flipped, flopped and crossed; my entire perception of language felt inverted. Words were the enemy.

When I was 7, my educators felt overwhelmed by my struggles and abandoned their efforts to assist my needs. I would later find out during an IQ test when I was 21 that my phonological loop is “impaired.” The phrase the clinician used was a “statistically and clinically significant discrepancy between the working memory and the other three indices” of memory measurement. I had a deficit. I am not disabled; I simply learn differently.

One day when I was 10, I went to my brother Andrew’s room, picked up a science textbook and by chance opened to a chapter on volcanoes. Instead of following methods for reading that didn’t work for me, I got out of the way and let my brain happen. I felt like an observer watching the process I was in. The word “volcano” looked like a volcano; the “V” reminded me of a blown-out crater. I immediately imagined the scene: I felt the heat, tasted the smoldering ash, smelled the sulfur in the air. The images flashed like lightning.

The synesthetic combination of sensations was something inherently familiar to me — as familiar as any home in which I have lived. My process for making sense of language is inherent in the word “home” itself. The “h” resembles a chimney, and Santa Claus goes down chimneys saying “ho, ho, ho,” so I’ll remember this word combination is pronounced like “ho-m;” but the “e” is “extra,” so that vowel modifies “m” and “o” to elongate their sounds.

All the different places I have called home during my life nearly outnumber my birthdays by double. Thus, my life lacked consistency until I discovered the beauty of language. Using my method to read, words felt familiar — the greatest familiarity I’ve ever known. They became my sanctuary.

When Andrew overdosed on heroin at just 21 years old, I wrote cathartically to cope with his death. A few months later, at 18, I published my first book of poetry and then released five more books over the next two years. I have been fortunate to further my passion at Chapman University, where I have a rich linguistic and artistic life. What has this life taught me? The only limits are the ones I place on myself. Life is boundless possibility, and I’ve only just begun to actualize it.

Corbett is a member of the Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society and the National Society of Leadership and Success at Chapman. This summer she plans to release
The Drug List
, her new book of poems, and
The Lovers Tree
, her first novel.

1 comment

  • A fascinating way to look at reading and writing. I must admit that I never approached it like that. But I will never again look at a “V” or an “h” the same way again!