An Afternoon without Stuttering

We continue following our person who stutters from the morning into lunch. After tomorrow (when I talk about what he does in the evening) I’ll go back and review his actions and what manner of sneakiness he showed through the day.

For those who are covert, none of this is new. But if you stutter and your friends wonder what it’s like (or don’t think you stutter) then you can show them these posts.

Just before lunch, our PWS has a list of questions about a project he’s working on. He needs to talk to someone in a different department. He opens up Outlook and checks their calendar. He sees that it’s 11:15 now, and the person has a meeting at 11:30 for an hour. He gets up with his list and walks up a floor to meet them. “Listen, I’ve got a bunch of things I wanted to know about this project,” he starts, looking at his page of questions. “Can we talk about this?” The other person responds, “Eh, well, I’ve got a meeting in a few minutes, so …”

“So maybe it’d just be better if I e-mail them to you?”

“Yeah, that’d be awesome.”

“Alright, cool.”

And that’s that.

Next up, lunch. The same coffee friend comes by and asks about lunch — where do you want to go? The options work out basically to: 1. Sit down place where the waiter takes your order. 2. Counter place where you order, 3. Fast food place and 4. Electronic ordering place.

Our PWS offers up the fast food place, “I ate healthy over the weekend,” but his buddy turns it down, “I didn’t.” Ok, well then how about no. 4 — we can get sandwiches there, and it shouldn’t take too long. “Ok, that’s good. Let’s go.”

After lunch is done, our PWS continues working quietly at his desk. He doesn’t get too many phone calls, but maybe the occasional visitor stopping by to ask something. Here comes someone now.

“Hey, how are you? Listen, for this report, it’s got this spreadsheet as backup. Where did you get these numbers from?”

Our PWS replies, “Oh, it’s from another department. Then I just check them against our information.”

“Ok, but there are a few things here that don’t add up. Can you get this resolved? I need this as soon as possible. Can you call them?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Our PWS dials the number. As it’s ringing, he swings his chair towards the side of his cubicle and begins going through some folders. “Let me see what we did last time for this.”

The phone picks up, and the person who stopped by sees that the PWS is busy rifling through folders. He begins talking to the person on the phone about the problem. Our PWS swings back and pulls up the spreadsheet on the computer and listens to the phone conversation intently. They work through the issue over the phone, and the person walks away satisfied.

Before leaving for the day, our PWS gets an e-mail from the electric company — the extra charge has been resolved and will be reimbursed.

Stuttering before college

As promised, let’s start talking about the college experience. This may take a few days.

The first important thing to mention is that I graduated high school in 1997. As said before, this was pre-Internet-as-it-is-today. Meaning that things were still mailed (hard copies!) and the phone was useful for communication. (well, for other people anyway)

Two years prior, we’d taken the PSATs. (What do the kids have now, anyway?) So you’d take the PSATs, and get a score back. I think you were supposed to allow your score to be released to colleges. Well, I did that, and there were tons of catalogs that came in the mail. From all over the country. (I did pretty well on the PSATs). I took the SATs later on and did fairly well on those, too.

These catalogs were coming in, and my brother was already off starting his freshman year. His choice of a college was a little more simple than mine for reasons I’ll get into later. So here I was with a pile of catalogs and no idea if I should apply to some of them, none of them or a few of them. Or where in the country should I go? Should I try for a specific program? Do I need to find a college that’s “right” for me? What about money?

My brother had gone to a large state school, and growing up in Pennsylvania, it seemed a lot of my friends were going to Penn State. So I knew I would apply there. I talked to some of my friends and even decided to room with one of them at Penn State. Done deal.

Well, not exactly. I also applied to three other schools and got into all of them — Pitt, Lehigh and University of Rochester. I applied to Pitt because well, it’s another large state school. Lehigh because a friend had applied there. Rochester because um … I dunno. Did I ask any of my other friends where they were going and why? No. Should I? Probably.

Pitt ended up giving me more scholarship money than Penn State. So I decided in the end to go to Pitt. I had no idea what the differences would be.

So here’s where the stuttering comes in.

I really knew absolutely nothing about college. Nothing. It was all very vague, and the expectation from my parents was like, “college, and then medical school, and then become a doctor.” That’s it. No information on exactly how this was to be accomplished because, remember, everybody thought I had my stuff together.

I stuttered, so I was afraid to ask anybody about this. I could have called any of the colleges that had sent me a catalog to find out more. I could have called the friendly folks at Pitt or Penn State to ask them what to expect and what I should bring … and what classes would be like … and what groups to join … and how to pick a major and … and … none of that happened.

I think I had this idea that college would basically be this extension of high school. Classes wouldn’t be that hard, I’d have some friends, and before I knew it, I’d be in medical school.

Had I called up Pitt to ask them about taking Advanced Placement tests, they probably would have told me it’d be a good idea. Did I do this? No. Did I take some of the AP tests? Yes, but I could have taken more. And I probably could have skipped a semester or two.

It’s important to note that in high school I had my brother to tell me what courses to take and in what order. So I didn’t spend a lot of time with (or have any need for) the guidance counselor. In college I would have nobody, but I’d also have this idea in my mind that well, I could figure it out.

I understand that many kids go to college not quite sure of why they are there and what they are going to do. But I was told specifically why I was there and what I would do (by my parents). But nobody ever sat me down and said, “well, how exactly are you going to do this?”

Looking back on those months before college, there sure was a lot of uncertainty. And a lot of things that, if changed, could have made the next four years a lot easier. But I was blissfully unaware of any of this.

You talk to them

Just writing these posts made me think of several tidbits that have a lot of room for exploration. For example, expound more on leaving messages (and how in my current job we don’t even have answering machines) as well as calling people on cell phones. There’s also cold calling people when I’m on my cell phone (since my desk phone only dials local). But, patience, dear reader. We’ll get to all this eventually.

One of the more stressful things that occasionally pops up is having to cold-call someone while there’s a visitor in my office. So not only do I have someone in the office who’s expecting an easy dial-up and let’s-sort-this-out-right-now, but also another party on the phone who is wondering what’s going on.

The natural tactic, of course, is to avoid this as much as possible. Can I maybe e-mail them? Can I get back to you on this later? Maybe we can go see them? Don’t worry, I’ll call them later. Maybe they’re at lunch right now? I think I saw them just go into a meeting. He won’t know, let me think of who to call. Later, later, later.

But that doesn’t always work. What I’m usually hoping happens is that there’s an awkward pause as the phone connects. Then I look at my visitor like, well, you wanted to talk to them, right? So maybe they jump in and start the introduction and ask the question. But sometimes I have to do it myself, and then the stuttering introduction gets underway.

It’s a three-part bit of misery — first, having to say my name, second, having to introduce my visitor, third, having to actually explain why I called. The third is usually lousy because of numbers 1 and 2 — I don’t have time to formulate any kind of coherent question or narrative. So I just babble on, avoiding words and dragging things out. The best approach is to defer the questions to the visitor and interject as needed.

The only good that comes out of it is that after I’ve cold-called someone, subsequent calls aren’t as hard. I wonder if this is because they remember my stutter — they might not recognize a voice, but they’re probably not talking to a lot of people who stutter on a daily basis.

Cold calling strangers

Ah, the phone. How I hate you so. Since I can fill a week of posts just on the phone, I will. And again, these are just the basics — there’s plenty of nuance to this that I’ll get to as the months roll by.

I’d say about 99% of the time I stutter on saying my name, so I know it’s coming. There’s little I can do about it, so instead I slowly freak out.

Today I’ll start with the simplest pain — me, alone in my office, and I need to call someone who I’ve never called before.

Thankfully I’ve gotten to the point where I have an office where I can close the door. So that usually happens first. I suppose I could lock it just so nobody barges in. Then I start thinking — can I just e-mail this person instead? Do I have to call them right now, at this very moment? Can I get one of my guys to call them? If they’ve got a calendar that’s available, I might consider trying to call them when I know they’ll be in a meeting. That way they’ll have to call me, and I don’t really have to introduce myself. Or maybe I’ll call them during lunch. And actually, do I have to say my name at all? Can’t I just ask for something and then maybe at the end we can figure out how to say my name? I mean, really, how long can I put this off for?

Unfortunately, if I’m cold-calling someone, it’s probably urgent. So I suck it up and … the line is ringing. I’m silently hoping they don’t pick up so I don’t have to say anything. I’m definitely not leaving a message. (there’s one thing about leaving a long message and getting cut off, there’s a whole other level of frustration when I’m stuttering out six words and get cut off).

So the phone is ringing, and they pick up. Now, what I should have done (that I always, always, always) forget to do — is maybe write some sort of script and just barrel through it. But no. So since I’m panicking a bit, I introduce myself by way of my company. And maybe I don’t even say my name — just what I want. That way they are at least hooked. If I open with a stutter and my name, they might start talking and asking who this is, and can you repeat yourself and what do you want, and I can’t understand and … and … of course all of those interruptions really throw things off because now instead of just stuttering out my name, I’m in a bigger hurry. So I try to shut down that attempt and answer some questions, but the breathing is by now all messed up, and seriously, are they still asking and interrupting, can’t they just shut up for a second?


I get through it. Somehow. Sweating at my desk, stuck with tunnel vision, not remembering any sort of technique. Ok. Then it’s on to whatever is next — why was I calling again? At this time, I’m pretty defeated. I recognize the trauma, so I finally take a breath. I finally relax my shoulders. I finally think. I called because … they are waiting, but at least it’s my turn, and I start out slowly.

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