Flashing Lights

I was on a flight a few weeks ago late at night. Two seats on each side, but I didn’t have a partner. I happened to be sitting just behind the wing. It was a short flight, just over an hour from Indy to the east coast.

I was trying to close my eyes and sleep. Even for just a half hour. I wanted some rest.

No luck. Flashing lights.

The strobe from the wingtip was going off. Not only could I see it through the window across the aisle, but it was reflecting off of my window. The person by the window was somehow passed out, though. I thought that maybe I could get up and close it. But then it would get super awkward if I woke them up. Like, what the hell are you doing in my personal space on this airplane?!

Drinks were coming by. I got a Diet Coke. I had to do something. Old me would have said, look, it’s only what, a half hour more? 45 minutes? Close your eyes tighter. Look down. Look away. Lean your seat back. Get a shirt from your carry-on and wrap it around your head if that’s what you need. Check if there are empty seats in the back.

No.

“Excuse me, could you close that shade?”

“Oh, the light from outside?”

“Yes, thanks.”

They finished with the drinks, but didn’t close the shade. Should I get up? Risk that awkward situation? Should I be a full-on weirdo and open my carry-on and–

One of the flight attendants came by, leaned over to the window, didn’t wake up the person there and quickly closed it. Done.

I closed my eyes and was able to relax.

I’m a medium?

I went over to Duluth Trading Company over the weekend since I had seen a bunch of their ads … and wanted to see what it’s really all about. They have nice stuff! It wasn’t too busy, and they had a lot of staff walking around and helping. The first person who asked me if I needed help I turned away. Just looking, thanks.

I then started trying on some dress shirts. They looked big. I tried on a medium first. I should note that for a long time I’ve been a traditional XL. Pretty much ever since I can remember. I’ve recently tried to move down to a large since I don’t want to be swimming in my shirts. Anyway, the medium fit well although the sleeves were a little short. Someone came up to ask if I needed help.

“Do these shirts here have the same fit as those ones?” I asked, pointing to the ones hanging on the wall.

I’m trying to get better at just talking. Even when I don’t have to. I mean, he’s asking if I need help, and he doesn’t have anything else to do that’s more important than help customers. So it’s a nice situation even though I already knew the answer. He tells me yes, they do, and that the shirts were designed for those in the trades, so the sizes are bigger than you’d normally see.

I could have just said thanks at this point and that would be that.

But I need the practice.

“It definitely made me feel good being able to fit in a medium,” I said, smiling. He agreed, saying that he had a similar experience when he first started working here. I thanked him, and that was that.

I think to any onlooker it would seem like a simple exchange. But as those of us who stutter know, it’s a lot more than that. It’s saying what I want to say, being who I want to be.

Stuttering Tournament, Round 1, Match 1

Audiences

1

Being asked to make a speech on the spot (including introduction) – Ah, yes, introducing myself. So not only do I stutter through my name and role at the company, but now you’re asking me to do something unrehearsed. At least with a  take or two I’d be somewhat smoother. But nope.

vs.

8

Responding when called on directly in front of a group (class, meeting) – Well, sure, there’s a debate here of, should I stutter through the actual answer, or just say I’m not sure and let them call on someone else?

What we’re at here is what is worse? What would you rather not face at the end of a long day at the office?

I’m going to give this to the No. 1 seed. It’s far worse because you have no choice. You’re on the spot, you’re expected to perform, and you’re going to recall all those times before when you were put in the same situation and stuttered through the whole thing. Not only that, but you have to start with your name which is always the worst part. Once you’re totally out of breath, frustrated and trying to avoid eye contact, the rest of the speech has to happen. A speech. A spontaneous speech. Sure, you could run through some canned material, but you’ll be so flustered that it’s likely to be filled with stutterific transitions.

We’ve all been called on in class and feigned ignorance. Tried and true. The teacher quickly moves on, or someone else just chimes in. Sometimes, hey, bonus, the answer is easy to say, so it pops out in a confident hurry. The no. 8 seed, to me, can result mainly in either a neutral or positive feeling with adequate management. The no. 1 seed? Seems destined for the negative.

Friday Tournament

Here’s a better idea. There are 32 “teams” for my little tournament, which means 16 first round matchups. I’ll just do all of them on Fridays for four months! Starting with tomorrow.

I’m off for the next few days, and will have time to write them all up and put them in queue. So even if I faff about and can’t get to posting about real life, at least those tournament matchups will still happen.

In the next few days I will be trying to give up processed food. Focusing on mostly fruits and almond milk and chicken breasts. It’ll be awesome, I’m sure. Oh, and guacamole. Surely that can’t be processed.

He lives! And still stutters.

Yes, the tournament is still looming over my head. Must finish! Two quick things for now, and then much more later. Firstly, I’m solo these days as my family is overseas visiting … family. More time for writing and getting up to no good.

Secondly, I’m still stuttering, but also still getting out there. This evening I went to the local velodrome to take photos (you know, when you buy a shiny [used] lens you gotta bust it out occasionally) and had a friendly chat with the people in the office about taking photos. And I didn’t even plan what I’d say! Just went in, took a breath, and let the words flow out.

Ah, a third thing. I won’t be going to the NSA Conference this year. It’s in Dallas, so a bit further away and more expense. I’ll be sticking around here, and maybe just exchanging many e-mails with some stuttering friends. And of course keeping things better updated on here!

Ah, life

Life. You came up again and took me away from my precious blog. Does that mean I’m not prioritizing it as I should? Probably … I was supposed to be doing a day-by-day, match-by-match analysis of the tournament that I conjured up.

I still will.

Let me do my taxes first!

And here’s some stuttering news at least. I started coaching my daughter’s kindergarten soccer team. This is a lot less involved than the basketball that I did before. It’s mainly organizing everything and then making sure things stay civil on the field. However, I did slip in a little stuttering during the first few days.

I told all the parents, via e-mail, that I stuttered.

I didn’t ask for anything in that e-mail, so it wasn’t a big deal that nobody responded. But then a few days later when I met them all in person, nobody said anything. So I could take this as, “nobody cares,” or “nobody was bothered.” I didn’t die. Life went on. I ran around trying to figure out who’s who, which kid is which, and where they should all be. It was slightly stressful with regards to the stuttering, but it was also fun running around on the field with the kids.

All in all, it was a positive experience. And now it’s out there for the parents if I stumble while trying to speak to them.

Remaining Tournament Details

Here’s a description of the bottom half of the bracket:

Food

  1. Ordering for a noisy car full of people at the drive-thru — I hate the drive thru enough, and now we’re adding a bunch of people, talking, being indecisive, not having enough change, and probably being pushy as well. Oh, and then I have to repeat my order a few times since I can’t hear over the ruckus.
  2. Saying grace/prayer for a meal in front of family — I haven’t done this specifically, but I did have to say some religious things at a wedding once. That was not at all pleasant. It’s really quiet, there’s no hiding, and only one way to say it. Oh, and God is watching and listening, too. Although I suppose He understands …
  3. Ordering food at a bar when the bartender is busy — I know what I want, I know what I’m going to stutter on, and this guy has no time for me. He is being called by a waiter, he’s being beckoned by another patron, and he’s filling up drinks. In my mind, I have about 5 seconds to get this order across, and it’s going to take 12 minutes.
  4. Complaining about food or service at a restaurant — I can’t even remember the last time I’ve done this. And of course it’s because of the stuttering. I don’t like conflict, and then for something like food? Forget it. I can just go eat somewhere else.
  5. Giving a custom order at a busy lunchtime — that kind of deal where you have a few slips of paper from coworkers and have to list them all while standing in line. Every order has to be perfect no matter what. And then the added stress of what to do when the restaurant says they don’t have something. Time for a phone call!
  6. Ordering while at a business lunch — ah yes, the path of least resistance. I don’t even care if it’s not what I want. I’m not stuttering in front of my boss and people at his level.
  7. Speaking in a dark and/or loud restaurant over other people — not quite as bad as having to order because well, you don’t actually have to engage in conversation, now do you? Surely there’s a game on that television above the bar …
  8. Asking for a menu clarification — don’t recall the last time I’ve done this, either. If I don’t understand it or think it might have something that tastes odd, move on to the next item! Now is not the time to experiment with fancy burger toppings.

One-on-one

  1. Going on a blind date — all the prepared statements in the world, all the talking to yourself in the mirror or doing silly mouth exercises are a match for this. There are so many variables! Charming? Nervous? How am I coming across? Wait, what’d she just say?
  2. Confronting a neighbor you’ve never spoken to before — particularly for conflict, this is the worst. You have to spend every day in your house then thinking about what the person right there — right there! thinks about you. And to make matters worse, you could have prevented it by just introducing yourself that first day when you saw them move in …
  3. Interjecting / trying to interrupt someone — the open mouth, the finger pointed up. The noise coming out of your mouth that’s not a word. Is anybody looking? Oh, crap, they are. And the person talking is now looking at your eagerly, waiting for your moment of brilliance.
  4. Getting pulled over and speaking to an officer — not only do I have to come up with a decent excuse, but I have to not stutter while doing it. Or should I be charming? Maybe say something witty? Oh, wait, I’m going to stutter, and the officer is going to think I’m on drugs or hiding something, and well, this is going to escalate quickly.
  5. Being interviewed while being recorded – Nothing like having your stuttering burned into the cloud for … ever. And all while having to come up with answers to a meaningful interview.
  6. Immigration official at an international border crossing — long flight, really tired, need to make a connecting flight. No pressure, buddy! Just don’t come across as nervous or like you’re trying to hide something and you should be good. Wait, why are they taking so long with that person? What’s going on?
  7. Meeting friends of friends — You guys call yourself my friends? Surely you know this about me now? What canned stories am I supposed to use here? Stuff about me? Stuff about my friends? I haven’t rehearsed or planned for this!
  8. Answering detailed questions about your work and personal life when getting to know someone – Not so fast, buddy. I’m going to give you short answer and then pop an essay question on you. I don’t faff about with yes/no stuff or multiple choice. Oh no, you’ll be telling me about your childhood while I try to breathe and think of a way out of this …

More Tournament Details

I wanted to expand a little on each “team” in my Stuttering Discomfort tournament. Then we’ll get going on head-to-head matchups over the next few days. It’s important for me to list what the basis is for each of them …

So here we go for Phone and Audiences:

Phone

  1. Cold-calling a senior person at a company – this requires all sorts of painful things — introducing myself, quickly explaining why I’m calling, and then answering some unknown questions. And then if I don’t plan it well enough, having to face the reality that I’ve forgotten to ask something, and I can’t very well call again.
  2. Making an urgent phone call – I had to make a phone call after getting into a car accident, and it was a miserable, stutter-filled mess. There’s a call to a complete stranger, having to quickly give information that you may or may not know (where you are, what’s happened, what do you need). Then there’s having to call a loved one, and that’s nervous because you want it to be quick in case someone is trying to call you back from the other calls you made.
  3. Calling in a food order to a busy, noisy place – phone calls are bad enough, but now it’s having to speak louder and more slowly. And the feeling that they’re under pressure to hear you and are in a hurry. Sure I could do things on my own damn pace, but then they might hang up. Also, whenever I call, it’s for a real custom order. I can’t mix and match words to fluenticate (ha!) the situation.
  4. “Going around the room” on a conference call – the phone again, and this time with the added hell of the in-person introductions. But instead of having all the eyes on you, everybody’s listening and if you take too long, someone will ask if you’re still there. Of course you are, but you’re out of air, so you can’t even whimper out a “yes.”
  5. Phone interviews – prepare, prepare, prepare. And then they approach it in a totally unpredictable way. The only way this gets better is by doing a ton of them. But that means living through a lot of awkward pauses and stutters.
  6. Cold-calling a business to ask them detailed questions – just another reason to turn me to the internet. But of course if I want a bike part this afternoon, calling the local bike shop is the only way. And then I have to introduce myself. Right? No? Then explain what I need. How much do I explain? Am I wasting their time? Are they busy? Wait, what did I need again? Crap, what time are they open until? I can find that out online, nevermind.
  7. Ordering a new service (i.e. cable, new gym, etc.) – the same information, again and again. Things I can’t skip out of. Name, address, phone number. Credit card number. And then wanting to ask some detailed question but not wanting to bother because I’m already exhausted and out of breath.
  8. Speaking to parents of your students (if you work with students) – a close stuttering friend offered this up, and I can only imagine how stressful it’d be. Especially considering how much detail you want to explain. And then feeling that maybe they’d like to ask you something but then don’t bother because they don’t want to hear you stutter any more.

Audiences

  1. Being asked to make a speech on the spot (including introduction) – Ah, yes, introducing myself. So not only do I stutter through my name and role at the company, but now you’re asking me to do something unrehearsed. At least with a  take or two I’d be somewhat smoother. But nope.
  2. Giving a wedding speech – I might feel more comfortable surrounded by family and friends, but this is all on tape. And I hate hearing or seeing myself recorded. And in 15 years, helping the bride and groom clean up after a party late and night hearing the bride say something like, “oh, I still remember that speech you gave … it was just so … honest…”
  3. Reading religious text aloud at a service (church/mosque/temple) – tied to the above. All eyes on me for someone else’s moment that will live forever. And no other words to choose from! At least I could rehearse it a few times and practice breathing. And then forget the breathing when I see all those eyes …
  4. Meeting and speaking in front of the family of your partner – ah yes, high pressure small talk. I can rehash a bunch of old stories, but aren’t I supposed to come across as funny and interesting? That’s how I was advertised, right?
  5. Fielding questions from a group – I have no idea what you people want! I want to do the right thing and have a nice long think and give you a beautiful, well-thought out and eloquent answer. But that would require me not avoiding about two dozen words. Maybe I could e-mail y’all instead?
  6. Presenting at work – Not the most fun, but at least I can practice a few times and get a lot more familiar with the material. I can even set up the powerpoint so that it has way too many words on it and everybody can just read!
  7. Running a meeting at work – Not at all difficult, right? I put out the agenda, and then prompt others for updates. But still if I’ve got something to talk about it may get a little tricky. Thankfully it’s all internal, so I’m at least familiar with the crowd.
  8. Responding when called on directly in front of a group (class, meeting) – Well, sure, there’s a debate here of, should I stutter through the actual answer, or just say I’m not sure and let them call on someone else?

Stuttering Tournament

Well, it’s NCAA Tournament time, and since my alma mater isn’t in it, I’ve got the mental capacity for my own tournament. (And was rather amused by being able to autofill in a dozen brackets on ESPN).

So here’s what we’re going to do. Since 64 is going to end up being a long list (and it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want) I’m going to list 32 stuttering circumstances, and we’re going to find out the most unpleasant one. Now I understand about acceptance and testing the waters and putting yourself out there, but this is for fun, and this is looking back on what life was like growing up — and about a lot of the feelings that have been burned in. I also know there are a lot of things I didn’t/couldn’t include. There’s a lot of mental blocks that could probably be in their own tournament.

So of course we’re going to have four regions, and then 8 circumstances. Our four regions will be:

Phone, Audiences, Food, and One-on-One

In my view, here’s the seeding for each. This is based on how uncomfortable I’d be for each. Your circumstances may certainly differ! In the coming days I’ll describe each of these more in a paragraph, and then the tournament will get going next Friday with the first matchups. By the end of next weekend, we’ll be down to the last 8.

If you have comments or think a seeding should be different, let me know!

Phone

  1. Cold-calling a senior person at a company
  2. Making an urgent phone call
  3. Calling in a food order to a busy, noisy place
  4. “Going around the room” on a conference call
  5. Phone interviews
  6. Cold-calling a business to ask them detailed questions
  7. Ordering a new service (i.e. cable, new gym, etc.)
  8. Speaking to parents of your students (if you work with students)

Audiences

  1. Being asked to make a speech on the spot (including introduction)
  2. Giving a wedding speech
  3. Reading religious text aloud at a service (church/mosque/temple)
  4. Meeting and speaking in front of the family of your partner
  5. Fielding questions from a group
  6. Presenting at work
  7. Running a meeting at work
  8. Responding when called on directly in front of a group (class, meeting)

Food

  1. Ordering for a noisy car full of people at the drive-thru
  2. Saying grace/prayer for a meal in front of family
  3. Ordering food at a bar when the bartender is busy
  4. Complaining about food or service at a restaurant
  5. Giving a custom order at a busy lunchtime
  6. Ordering while at a business lunch
  7. Speaking in a dark and/or loud restaurant over other people
  8. Asking for a menu clarification

One-on-one

  1. Going on a blind date
  2. Confronting a neighbor you’ve never spoken to before
  3. Interjecting / trying to interrupt someone
  4. Getting pulled over and speaking to an officer
  5. Being interviewed while being recorded
  6. Immigration official at an international border crossing
  7. Meeting friends of friends
  8. Answering detailed questions about your work and personal life when getting to know someone

Final Basketball Thoughts

Basketball season is over, and I have a few stuttering-related thoughts on it … and what I’m thinking for the next coaching experience … I previously wrote about coaching fourth grade boys basketball here and here.

  1. At the end of the season, my co-coach printed up awards for each of the kids, made a little speech at the post-season party (at a parent’s house) and handed them out. I didn’t know he was going to do this, and didn’t offer up any words while he was doing this. The kids and parents were happy to get the team awards, so if I’m a coach for another sport, I think it’s something I’d want to do. I think if I wrote a little script and practiced it a few times, I could pull it off without any issues. I might get stuck on the names, but instead of focusing on that, I’ll focus on my breathing, standing up straight, making eye contact, and projecting to the back of the room.
  2. After each game, my co-coach would gather the players around and talk about the one thing we did well, and one thing we could improve on. I need to have a think about this. I saw some of the other coaches doing this as well. I think I’d have to really think about the message and make sure it’s clear when I’m conveying it.
  3. Over communication is definitely key. Sending out e-mails to the parents, being clear on what the schedule would be and what they needed to do certainly made life easier. We had a few times when people didn’t show up on time, but overall it wasn’t too bad. Re-iterating what was said in an e-mail after practice also helped.
  4. Volunteering to coach was a simple and small thing — and it made a huge, huge difference in terms of my confidence. To go back to the stuttering angle — I spoke and didn’t die. I also learned all the simple things that I wrote about above — how to organize, how to direct, and how to keep kids engaged.

I wrote before that if my daughter wants to sing up for softball, I’d coach. Well, that didn’t happen. She wants to do soccer instead. And my other son wants to do soccer as well. I’ll try to do both since they need volunteers.

Before, when I didn’t accept my stuttering (as much) I would have run from these things. I’m not saying I’m running toward them now, but I’m walking. I’m still choosing to engage on my own terms.

I think it’s important to write about these things because many people may not know what they’re getting into, and they shy away from it because they think their stuttering will just take over. It won’t. And even if you ask someone (who doesn’t stutter) what they got out of it, their experience will be totally different than yours.

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