Somebody Famous

I had the chance again to do some international travel over the past few weeks (and no, that’s not an excuse for my horrid posting schedule). But as I was walking through airports, it occurred to me — what if I saw someone famous?

I think a lot of people are like this — they go to events, they wait around outside clubs and airports and whatever else, hoping to catch a glimpse of a movie star or sports hero. And sometimes, just carrying on with your normal routine, you run into someone famous. You’re in the same space, there’s an exchange of looks or smiles or whatever. An acknowledgement of existence. And then?

Hi? Hello?

I think I need to ask someone fluent about what they are so eager to say to a famous person. What bits of conversation are you looking to start with? How will the small talk open? Because despite the strides I have made with my stuttering, it’s not something I think I would do. See someone famous … ok, great, move on. Not going to talk to them, not going to engage, not even going to bother snapping a photo — because then someone will ask, “did you go up to them?”

For me it starts with the name — not mine, theirs. There are thoughts that for those of us who stutter, we stutter on our own names a lot more because there’s no alternative — no substitution is possible. Well, it’s the same for anybody else, really. When you’re sitting in a meeting and have to go around the room — and tell someone on the phone who’s in the room. So the opening hello is fraught with fear — and of looking silly or nervous or whatever. And it’s not that I’m nervous, famous person. I stutter.

And then I think, ok, say somehow I get past that. Then? Think of not overly famous people — just the ones who are big in whatever sport or tv show you enjoy. One that’s not sweeping the world. I like cycling — there are plenty of cyclists who could probably walk through airports completely unnoticed. So then? I have to quickly think — ok, where were they, what did they just accomplish, are they in the middle of some big event or great season? And then find something witty to ask. More stress, more uncertainty.

So you add all that up, and … no thanks. Carry on, famous person. Have a good time.

Fine, thanks.

It’s been a while. Not since I stuttered, of course. But a few things have been happening, and I’m still struggling with this blog, a direction, and everything else going on.

Someone came to my desk the other day and asked me how I was doing. It was one of those “good morning” kind of greetings. The one where you’re just sort of expected to say, “good, how are you?” and get on with it. But after I told him I was “fantastic,” he said, “your face tells a different story.” I made a joke about how “dammit, it’s not working any more,” and we moved on. But it really got me to thinking about these quickie exchanges that we have all the time in offices.

I’ve never been one to give a long, detailed answer to “how are you doing,” when it comes from a coworker. That’s not what they want. That’s not the protocol. But then there’s a spectrum of colleague — from person you don’t know at all to person you’d consider a close friend. Although how does someone you don’t know become a friend? Or even get closer? Through these kinds of interactions? I’m wondering if I’ve been subconsciously keeping people at bay because I want to keep the numbers small, or if I just don’t want to talk to them because I know I’ll stutter.

I think there’s a lot of pressure in those small exchanges, too. It’s a fast, straight-forward query. Same as when someone asks you your name. You’re expected to give a quick answer. If you’re not doing well, then yeah, maybe a long sigh and a “well, it could be better,” is fine. Followed by a laugh, because well, let’s not get into why. This is why I always say “yeah, good,” or whatever I can feel is going to be fluent. I never thought to get my facial expression in line as well.

So what’s the path forward on this? Should I slowly give longer and longer answers? Feel out how much time we have to talk? How much I can get out of them as well? I’ve gotten really good at asking other people questions (even though they start with “w,” and I usually stutter on it). At least for me when I get to know people better, my stuttering decreases because my comfort level rises. (not always, but often).

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