Alexa Leigh Corbett '15

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.