In Discussion With Carter Hammett
The closing keynote speaker at LDAO’s recent Educators Institute was singer-actor-teacher-multi-hyphenate Lesley Andrew. With her somewhat imposing 5 10” presence, wild red hair and signature humour, the London ON-based Andrew never fails to make an impression. Indeed, being the closing act for an already-successful event isn’t easy but Andrew had the room hooked with her inspiring and empowering messages and closed the conference on a high note. Swinging from vulnerable one moment to eye-opening the next, It was nice to play catch up and learn she’s lost none of the energy that’s had her opening for people like legendary singer Paul Anka, appearing on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno or starring in any number of Stratford productions. I caught up with her just after she started a new position as Director of Vocal Music at Toronto’s George Brown College.
Q: Hi Lesley! It’s hard to believe a decade has passed since we last talked. Perhaps that’s a good place to start. So…whaddya been up to the past decade?
A: Wow! Time certainly does fly! I’ve been pretty busy over the past decade, with teaching positions at Western and Windsor universities, motivational speaking, adjudicating at music and drama festivals, teaching in my private studios (Windsor and London), and directing. Last September, I directed La Boheme (Puccini) for Southern Ontario Lyric Opera, and that was loads of fun! I’ve also started the home study process in the hopes of becoming a foster/adoptive parent, and have signed on to be a ‘Big Sister.’ The next decade promises to be exciting for sure!
Q: I know that you are also starting a new position with George Brown College….
A: Yup. I begin next week. Ah!!! I am the new Director of Vocal Music. I will be teaching voice to all three years of study within the drama program. A couple of months ago, the powers that be at the college called and asked me to be the new Director of Voice, as their past director was retiring .
Q: What was it like? Were there any moments where it felt like your disability would be an issue?
A: Good question! I am finding a few things difficult. This week and next, before I start work on Thursday, I have planned a number of treks into Toronto so I can plan my route and look for landmarks along the way. I am very stressed about taking the GO train, and transferring onto a subway and then a bus. Direction is not my thing. I’ve also invested in ear plugs so that the excessive noise of the traffic, subway and people doesn’t make me want to pull out my hair! I can’t handle too much sound all at once, which is ironic as I am a musician. All things technology are not my forte, either. I can’t seem to figure out how to connect to all the links I need to use, now that everything is computer-driven. My dyslexia comes out in full force when I am nervous or stressed, too, and some of my coping mechanisms seem to disappear. And finally, as a person with LD, I always experience that old self-doubt before anything new. The story of my life seems to be one step forward, three steps back. Six steps forward, two steps back, etc.
Q: During your presentation at The Educators Institute, you disclosed that you were recently diagnosed with Asperger’s/HFA. You also mentioned that everyone in your family seems to have fallen into this category….can you elaborate?
A: When I was a kid, very few children received such a diagnosis. It was not until we reached adulthood that my brother and I realized there was an actual name/diagnosis for what we ‘are.’ It sure explains a lot! My brother and I both have great difficulty with certain textures, for example. Not only when we touch certain items (like suede and velvet), but when we see other people touch it, too. While my father is deceased and never received a diagnosis, we feel there is a common thread that began there. One of my brother’s children also has the same diagnosis. Seeing the movie ‘Temple’ changed my life; I could relate to it so much. Then, this past year, Temple Grandin and I were both booked to be keynote speakers at the same conference. I felt blessed to meet my hero.
Q: Previously, you mentioned you were diagnosed as “gifted LD.” How does this interact with your autism diagnosis?
A: It’s all just part-in-parcel. It just means I am really good at some things, and really not good at others. There seems to be no middle ground with me. It just means that I do things a bit differently. I’ve had to come up with strategies to help with challenging situations (like wearing ear plugs when sound gets too much). It hasn’t really impacted my social behaviour, but I definitely ‘think’ and understand things differently. It means that sometimes I feel very frustrated. It means that quite often I have to use a lot of creative problem solving. It also means that I feel hopeful about what I can do. It means I do my best to not limit myself with “can’ts”
Q: Can you explain to readers what your LD is and how it impacts you?
A: Oh goodness, I have a huge list of disabilities. Dysphonetic and dyseidetic dyslexia and dyscalculia. CAP (central auditory processing disorder), an inability to remember list or non-related facts or number sequences. A hearing impairment (20% loss in left ear), extreme myopia and visual impairment with vision crossing fields,
Q: What insights are attached to this?
A: “Normal” is just what we are used to experiencing. I’ve never known myself any other way. I think it has all made me a sensitive person; and sensitive in a good way. In the ‘ultra aware’ kind of way, not the ‘easily hurt’ kind of way.
Q: You mentioned several things that you do to help you manage your LD, including journaling. Can you explain the benefits of this?
A: Journaling helps one to work out his or her story. When times are tough, it helps to get it all out of your brain. Ear plugs are definitely my friends! I also have analog clocks in every room of my house. I keep my space organized and quiet (save for my parrot, who is very loud!), and I make sure to give myself time away from people so that I may re-group. I know it will take me a bit of extra time to accomplish certain tasks, so I make sure to give myself the needed time whenever possible.
Q: Something I’ve mentioned a few times since your talk was your references to your “invironment” and your “outvironment.” This seemed to resonate with the audience….a lot. It certainly did with the people I’ve mentioned it to. Care to elaborate for readers what this means to you?
A:” Invironment” is everything to do with the self and self-care. How you take care of yourself and present yourself to the world. “Outvironment” is everything else. How you take care of the world around you. Your familial situation, society, the earth. With both, there are some things over which we have control, and some things over which we have no control, in which case it is how we react to those things over which we have no control. If we can feel better about our invironment and our outvironment, we will feel more in tune, as both impact the other. Hopefully, this awareness (and doing what we can to improve our invironment and our outvironment) will help us to work harder, and to succeed.
Q: You also use humour to great effect. I like how you mentioned to laugh twice daily. Can you explain a bit more?
A: Laughing is so important. Laughing lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, and increases the circulation of antibodies in the blood stream and makes us more resistant to infection. Plus, it’s fun!