Mem Bourke

Creator of NZ Body Art Awards

When did you first realise that you had a different way of thinking?
My first experience of having a different way of thinking was when I was five and a half.

What was your experience of school?
At school I was always struggling with my reading, it was a horrific experience. I didn’t know I could read until I left school and the pressure was taken off to perform well. In my early years it was embarrassing to be so different through troubled reading and writing. When I was older I had arguments with teachers as I refused to read out loud in class, which was typical In the 60’s and 70’s. So I would get sent out of class and considered naughty.

Maths was easier, but I would always have to check numbers and recheck, I would always have two numbers swooped around. I still do this with phone numbers and need to repeat a new number to the caller. As I grew into my teens, and with a natural flair for art, I began to have a better understanding of learning. 

How did you get involved in event production?
As I was challenged academically and couldn’t do monotonous, repetitive work, such as in a factory, I started travelling New Zealand, getting work as a cook or on shearing gangs, I enjoyed physical work. Then as I started to grow I found work as arts and cultural events coordination.
I then went off overseas and became a tour guide on adventure safaris. On returning to NZ the natural progression from a tour guide seemed to be an event coordinator. So I went to AUT, did event management and set up my own company. At AUT I did a lot better once I found out I could get the use of a reader/writer during exams.

What are the main work challenges that you have had to overcome?
Firstly, learning how to get over the feeling of low self-worth and not being good enough.
And then God made computers –15 years ago when I returned to NZ I didn’t even know how to turn a computer on, now they are a God send with spell check and calculation. Another challenge is recording facts and figures – instead of storing information in my brain I am learning how to get it out of the head and onto paper. This is so that everyone knows what is going on in the business, not just myself. Another thing would be learning not to let fear of being criticised get in the way. 

What do you think are some of the positives and negatives of dyslexia?
Negatives: Lack of confidence: made me feel that I was not so bright as I could not keep up academically. Reading and writing became less important in my life.

Positives: Makes you inventive and creative, your mind needs to be a problem solver. It also gives freedom to explore things that are not mainstream, so creativity is heightened. And survival skills are developed so you get more instinctive and your intuition is developed to a higher level.

What advice would you give young New Zealanders who are dyslexic?
Talk openly about dyslexia so people can understand the way things appear to be and the way you think. Persevere with the challenges of the education system and learn to work with this system. Try and pick it up as early as possible in your own children so you can educate them on dyslexia so that it is easier for them at school.

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