Lennie Varvarides – Dyslexia & ADHD
This ND + Story is from Lennie, Creative Producer, of DYSPLA, a neurodivergent-led, award-winning arts studio producing and developing the work of neurodivergent storymakers, supported by the Arts Council England.
Name: Lennie Varvarides
ND Type/s: Mainly Dyslexic and ADHD
What do you do: I am the founder of DYSPLA and also run a talent agency called MSFT Management.
Where do you live: North London
How did you start your day? Do you have a morning routine? Do you think a good diet is important?
I always aim for a morning routine. I long for one. When I am good, I follow the rule of waking up early to read or write. I used to meditate in the mornings too - but I have not felt as zen since Lockdown and I am not really keeping up my meditation routine. I find it takes a lot of discipline to stay consistent and sometimes, discipline needs discipline. Breakfast is a big deal in our home. It’s the only meal we all eat together at the table, so yes, it’s important.
How do you stay active?
I love to walk and aim for 13K steps a day. Before Lockdown I had a good physical routine that involved cycling to work and swimming once a week. I even started jogging… but that all went out the window when I put on my Lockdown weight, and I have not been good at shifting it.
What do you do to relax?
I love reading - I never thought I would say that, but I do. In 2018 I started reading and that was the first time since doing my MA. Working life takes hold of you and it’s hard to learn how to carve out time for yourself. Organising my time never came easy, so I have missed out on a lot of personal development.
Do you have a favourite word or phrase?
Yes, my favourite word in the world is DYSPLA
Have you read, watched or seen anything good recently? Is there a book, play or film that changed your life?
There are many good books and films. Theatre changed my life, it gave me life. I fell in love with words and performance when I was 8, so I have always been drawn to watching and writing plays and reading poetry. I have only ever wanted to create, develop, and direct stories. In terms of recent watching and reading - I have just finished watching MAIDS - an American drama on Netflix, inspired by Stepanie Land’s memoir Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive and am currently reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. I am particularly interested in consuming content that focuses on social, educational and economic justice.
Which 5 albums will you want to have with you on a desert island?
I would want the best of Eminem, The Fugees, Elvis Presley, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received and who was it from?
My art tutor at Camberwell College of Arts told me to use my Dyslexia to make art. This advice changed my life.
When you were young, what did you want to be when you were a grown-up? And what was your first Job?
I always wanted to be a story maker but my first job at 13 years old was a shampoo girl at my local hairdressers.
What do you do now and how did you get into it?
I have been working for myself for the past 12 years, running DYSPLA with Kazimir Bielecki since 2013 and MSFT Management with other freelance talent agents since 2011.
Creativity and thinking differently are often credited to neurodiversity. Would you say that is true? And if yes, could you give an example?
I fundamentally believe that being neurodivergent is a creative advantage and with the right support and the right networks, neurodivergent people have the story making advantage. An example of this is DYSPLA and I want to grow the evidence of this via the new publication I have created called The Museum of the Neurodivergent Aesthetic.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus, what do you do to get back on track? Do you have any hacks, tips or do you use any apps to keep you on track during the day?
When I feel overwhelmed, I usually sleep. When I am unfocused, I try to read or write or go for a walk or a swim. I love using the alarm clock on my phone to keep me on track – I have an alarm set for almost everything from leaving the home on time, to getting ready for bed.
What makes you happy?
Lots of things; my home, my family, my writing, my coffee before work, listening to old records, long baths, getting my hair washed at my local salon.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
My daughter’s love.
Does your neurodiversity have an impact on the way you approach relationships?
Being an ND person is the impact. It forms the DNA within us. It is the reason we fail to maintain good relationships and the root of all our struggles with mental health and low self-esteem. If you are working class, it is also the reason you fail more than you succeed. The more we all learn about ND, both the negative sides as well as the positive associations, the more we can all help each other to reach our full potential.
Tell us something about your ND experience, that you think not many people will know, or understand?
Others, who are not ND themselves, may not understand how quickly I crash into a state of nothingness. Sometimes, I cannot move even if I want to.
If given the choice, right now, to start over again — to ND or not ND?
I can’t really answer that question. I wish things were easier, of course I do… I wish I could do simple things as easily as others… but what good is it to wish for another life when this one still is a working progress.
Do you have a Positive ND message to the world? Imagine you have a £5 million advertising campaign to spend on billboards all over the world. What would you say?
I still stand by the mantra that dyslexics are authentic story makers, so I would probably run a campaign calling for the creative industries to hire dyslexics…
“Dyslexics are better story makers, make them part of your office furniture so they have a seat at your table.”
Thank you for sharing your + Story with us Lennie, final question — where can people find out more about you. Do you have a website and social media pages?
I’m always looking to connect with others interested in creativity, disability, activism, and neurodiversity. Happy to connect via any of the links below:
More on DYSPLA_chat: A monthly 1 hour informal group peer to peer zoom chat with DYSPLA, discussing Neurodivergent creative methodology, strategies, projects and inspiration. DYSPLA’s creative directors will be on call to chat with anyone who needs to. Meetings will be recorded and confidentiality stored for the prosperity of DYSPLA’s Neurodivergent Aesthetic research.