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Excerpt from Chapter 14

Hit by a Personality Tornado


McNaughton and the team of therapists she was working with took a picture of Kari, sitting in her wheelchair, surrounded by an array of symbols. Her eyes are sparkling, her smile is huge and her dimples are adorable. When they finally tracked down Bliss in Australia, they sent him the picture. Before he received it, he later wrote, "I was resigned to my fate that I shall not see the fruits of my labours before I die. And then this picture, sent by Shirley, floated onto my desk. I can't describe the tumult of my thoughts. The heavens opened up and the golden sun broke through the darkened sky. I was delirious with joy."

He immediately mortgaged his house in order to make the long trip to Toronto. Everyone was excited. When he arrived there were meetings and talks and parties. Bliss told jokes and played the mandolin and showered everyone he met with over-the-top compliments. The children loved him; he juggled and sang and shouted his love for them at the top of his voice. When he found out that the speech therapist had recently lost her husband to diabetes, he shed tears of deep sorrow, raged at the injustice of her misfortune, professed his undying love for her, and proposed marriage.

The staff didn't quite know what to make of that. It seemed kind of sweet and funny at the time. He was 75 years old. He was exotic, old world, an Austrian Jew who had survived the war. He was effusive and emotional and not very Canadian. They stood back, amused but a little stunned. They had been hit by a personality tornado.

Near the end of his visit, Bliss gave McNaughton a copy of a book he had recently published, The Invention and Discovery that will Change our Lives. "We started to read it," she told me, "and we all had a private meeting and we said the administration should never see this book. It was really something -- about how the nuclear bomb is all a myth, how the soviets killed Kennedy, and how teachers are to blame for the problems of the world, and how they are all cowards and sex perverts – we thought that if the administration sees this they'll never let him come back."

The staff's concern was for the children. They wanted to continue to develop the

Blissymbols program and they needed Bliss's help. He was a bit strange, but wasn't that

often a mark of genius? They didn't need to ascribe to all his theories; they just needed his symbols. And he wanted to help. He was so glad to be there. He cared about the children so much. Surely he would do everything he could to make the program succeed. He was a wonderful man.

McNaughton had originally discovered Blissymbolics in a book called Signs and Symbols Around the World where it was briefly mentioned. There was a reference to Semantography. Shirley and her team couldn't find the book anywhere. Eventually they had the national library of Ottowa do a search across Canada, and one copy was found, at a university in Sudbury. They kept renewing the book as they searched for a copy they could buy. They wrote to the Semantography Trust but got no response. So they wrote to the book's distributor, who said, "We want nothing to do with that man. We dropped his stuff years ago." Their search led them to other distributors, who all said the same thing. At the time, Shirley was too preoccupied with finding the book to wonder about those comments. And in the whirlwind of Bliss's visit, she failed to make any connection between those comments and the man who inspired them.
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