Action for Stammering Children Day 2

This week I’m going to go through several tweets from the Action for Stammering Children. Here’s yesterday‘s post. These have all been done by children, teenagers and therapists. They all sum up the stuttering experience very well, and I thought I’d add a bit more to them regarding my own experience.

Today’s post is, “Certain situations make us stammer more. Many of us find being put on the spot or under pressure the hardest.” This is meant for teachers by pupils.

I know when I was in school I certainly hated getting called on randomly. I mean, yes, I had the answer, but having to articulate it was pretty stressful. And everybody who stutters has been through The List.

What’s The List? Oh you know. For me it was a spelling lesson. There’s a new chapter for spelling, a list of words, and we’ll go around the room, and everybody will say the word, spell the word, read the definition and/or use it in a sentence.

So let’s see … I’m … 15th … go down the words … yeah, I can’t say that.

I’m not sure how it happened, but I think my French teacher in high school figured out that my stutter bothered me and that I hated having to speak. So imagine this — we had a language lab. You put on headphones and you and everybody else are all on the same “channel.”So the teacher could make us listen to a recording (en Francais!) and then she’d ask us about it. So everybody could hear you answer (en Francais!). So it was the hell of having to speak up in class but with the added hell of basically being on the phone. Fun!

Anyway, the point is that my French teacher was nice enough to click over to me, ask me something for just a second, and then go onto the next person. So grateful.

I know that for most presentations or book reports or whatever I was a total wreck. But I think that was a function of being a young person — waiting until the last minute, throwing something together, not rehearsing, and totally lacking confidence.

So what would I tell my younger self? Well for book reports and presentations that are a few weeks out, prepare and rehearse. Get more comfortable. You’re going to stutter, but the more you know, the more confident you’ll be, and the more comfortable you’ll be with delivery.

And what would I tell my younger self about getting put on the spot? About being asked to read something outloud suddenly? About having to go up to the chalkboard, do a math problem and then talk through the solution?

Well, start with a deep breath. Then take another. Then focus on delivering your answer at your own pace. Just because your friend before you rattled off an answer quickly doesn’t mean you have to. Remember — slow is your friend — your friends want you to take your time — it’ll make class end earlier! But seriously, I do still deal with this in my working life. I’m put on the spot by a senior manager or VP — asking me specifics about a project. Deep breath, some consideration, slow delivery. And in the working world, it’s ok to say you don’t know (when you genuinely don’t know — not when you’re just avoiding) and say you’ll find the information and get back to them.

The stuttering bothered me because I was comparing myself to my fluent friends constantly. But how do they sound when they’re put on the spot? Unsure? Uncertain? Searching for words? Nobody is perfect in those situations time and time again.

And what would I want to tell my teachers if I could go back?

Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t want them to back off on oral presentations or anything. Not at all. That’s not how real life is going to be. But I’d prefer them to challenge me more on it. Ask me — Did you prepare early? Did you rehearse? Did you get a bunch of friends together and do the presentation in front of them?

For stuff on the spot, I’d ask simply that they be patient and maintain eye contact. To control the tone and make sure I’m not feeling rushed. For something like spontaneous group work — where you assign a leader — ask the group to assign one. So if I’m feeling good that day, I can take it. Otherwise I can still contribute meaningfully without the stress of having to present the bulk of the work.

I think also to recognize when I’m having a bad day (speaking-wise) and you’ve called on me. Look, I got up and did the math problem in front of the class. I showed all my work. I wrote it all out in a way that anybody could follow along. When I go in on explaining the first step and can barely say “x,” I’d certainly appreciate lightening up on follow-up questions.

To read more about my experiences in school, you can click here for elementary school, here for junior high, and here for high school.

Critical Stuttering Mass

Growing up, I knew one other person who stuttered. And I didn’t feel comfortable talking to him about stuttering. He wasn’t as covert (as I tried to be). After that, I indirectly met one other much older person (once, for a few minutes) who stuttered. This all changed last year when I went to my first NSA Conference.

But as far as becoming more accepting of my stutter and reaching out to people, it didn’t happen until very recently. I’ve been trying to think of why. I see some people on Facebook who are very young and reaching out, and others who are much older and reaching out for the first time, surprised and overjoyed at the community’s response.

I think there’s a sort of “critical mass” effect that’s going on. When you’re covert, you deny stuttering at every level. It’s my problem. It’s my daily hell. It’s my limitation. It’s my challenge to overcome. I can do this on my own, and I don’t want to reach out to anybody. If I reach out, it’s admitting that it’s holding me back. It’s not! (Even though it is, mentally and maybe socially).

I think thanks to social media (and the King’s Speech, I suppose) it’s more out there. You can search online for a group, or if you insist on being covert, someone will pass something along to you eventually. If you start listening to enough small bits of information from various sources, it’ll eventually reach that critical mass. You’ll start to see that other people stutter. They make videos about it (even if you never watch them). They record podcasts (even if you never listen to them) and they write (even if you only skim a post here and there).

It took me a long time to reach a point where I could put even a few words out on this blog. But signing up for the NSA conference gave me something to be accountable to. And once I was there, the rest of the critical mass was formed — everything about stuttering was normal. If you think you’re alone stuttering, go to the conference and start talking to one person — you’ll exchange the exact same stuttering stories, and you’ll be laughing together for a long time.

I don’t know if I could have kept up with this blog if I hadn’t gone to the conference last year. It wouldn’t have lasted. I would have probably gone back into my shell, content to continue practicing my covert behaviors, and wondering what could have been if I had kept writing.

For people who are considering making the transition from covert to overt, know that there are a lot of people out there to support you. Facebook groups may only have a few thousand people in them, but I assure you there are many more lurking. For me life has gotten better now that I’m not dreading every single social or work interaction. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely improving.

The long road to stuttering acceptance

As I approach the one-year anniversary of this blog and opening up (almost) completely about my stutter, I thought I’d take a chance to talk more about how exactly I got to this point of acceptance.

This was a very, very long process. And I know it’s not the same for others who stutter. Even when I went to the NSA conference, I met people who stutter more and less than I do. Keep in mind that I graduated high school in 1997, so it was well before the Internet as we know it today.

However, this might at least offer some guidance to those still in school wondering if it’ll get better, or what can be done to make things better. And by “better,” I mean more comfortable, more tolerable, and less stressful on a day-to-day basis.

Elementary school – (Ages 7-11) I was aware that I stuttered, but didn’t understand its implications at all. Did speech therapy, but nobody gave me the big picture. Also, I was fluent during therapy, so that didn’t help. No mention on the homefront about my speech. (pretty much continues to present day, actually)

Junior high school – (11-15) My sixth grade teacher commended me at the end of the year about my accomplishments despite my stutter. This was the first time that a non-therapist recognized it and brought it up. I did more therapy in school, but I was usually fluent during those sessions. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was also growing more comfortable and confident in my environment — and gaining friends who didn’t mind the stutter. This was cyclical — low comfort and confidence going into junior high, riding high on the way out. Going into high school, I was down low again, but managed to work back up by the time I graduated.

High School – (15-18) Definitely knew that I had a stutter, and finally met someone else who did as well. We were in some of the same classes together, and we even looked alike. He was a lot more open about it. Not at all covert. But he and I never talked about it, and I regret that. Through peer pressure, I became more involved in the performing arts (on a very, very small scale) and that did a lot of good for my confidence even though it scared the hell out of me at times. I didn’t stutter when I was on stage doing Who’s on First (two nights!) when I was a senior. I had a different therapist in high school, and she taught me about easy onsets and breathing. These are things that I still try to use today, and it’s made a huge difference.

College – (18-22) At this point I should say that I still wasn’t “thinking” about the long-term effects of stuttering. I didn’t know about job interviews, going to meetings, giving presentations and whatever else the corporate world had for me. My summer jobs had been retail and as a bank teller. Not a lot of talking, and it was easy to be covert. I thought that was normal. Since high school, I have not seen an SLP. During the college I do remember introducing myself to others at the student newspaper, stuttering-be-damned. Once that was done, it was easy to maintain those friendships. And as people came and went at the paper, it was easier for introductions. Academically, I did what was required but never bothered talking to professors or asking for help. It just wasn’t something I was used to.

First job – (22-25) I had problems during some of the interviews only because I didn’t know what to say. But after a while I became pretty decent at just bantering and smiling. That being said, I did get my first job through my dad’s connections, and once there, it was easy to be the young engineer who didn’t know anything. I got used to keeping my mouth shut and trying to absorb as much as possible. During the first five years out of college, I never gave my stutter any thought. And despite the Internet, I never bothered researching it or finding any help groups.

Subsequent jobs – (25-31) I can’t pinpoint an exact date, but I started reflecting a lot more about my stuttering and my life. This probably happened when I found out about the Pagoclone trial. And so I started to keep journals. I think the boredom of corporate travel — hotels and coffee shops helped a lot with this. I thought that I could put it all together into a book. Despite all the writing and thinking, I still didn’t reach out to anybody. The Pagoclone trial wasn’t through an SLP. Through writing and reflecting, I started to realize that my general policy of not-asking and not-talking was entirely stuttering-related.

Moving to Saudi – (31-36) I feel like things sort of “settled down” a lot more in my working and home life when we moved to Saudi. Before that, I was traveling a lot more, worried about general job security, saving whatever money I could, and raising a family. But in Saudi more things are taken care of, and I was able to sit down with my stuttering thoughts a lot more. I came here when I was 31. So that’s how long it took to really start looking around online and finding out more about stuttering.

I realized after a while that publishing a book wouldn’t be feasible. But I was reading a lot more blogs, so I decided that might be the best route. But the stuttering still held me back — in being overt. I was afraid of so many things — that were all imaginary. That if someone found out it might affect my job, what my friends or family might think, what having to talk more about it would do to my psyche. So not until I turned 35 last year did I go ahead with the site.

So what does this all mean? It’s a long journey. I never researched stuttering online because it was bothering me or holding me back (or so I thought). I only researched it because I wanted to share my journey with others. For the longest time I thought it was very personal, something that I should have to struggle with on my own. I’ve found out the opposite of course. I’m not alone, and a lot of other people are going through this.

I think for a long time I also didn’t research stuttering online because I didn’t want to admit to myself that I stuttered. That’s an absurd thing to say, but I think it’s true for the majority of covert stutterers. If I don’t learn about it, it doesn’t exist to me, and it won’t bother me [any more than it does]. Of course I’ve since learned that it’ll actually make you feel better knowing more. And it’s really fun to get together with other people who stutter and connect and tell stories.

I will also say that a lot of things came together at the right time. Working at the same company for a number of years gave me the confidence that stuttering more at work wouldn’t have any negative effect. Also being here gave me the financial means to start attending the NSA Conference regularly.

Do I wish I had come to this point earlier? I don’t know. I’m not sure I would have been ready for it. On the one hand, colleagues have always been good to me, so maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference. What about during college or before that? That’s even harder to say — so I’ll go with “it’s complicated.” It’s that idea of, well, had I known and been more aware, would that have had a major impact? I don’t think now it’s going to make any major career impacts, but before it would have been possible. On the other hand, isn’t that true for fluent people anyway? As life goes on, you become more narrow in your pursuits and ambition.

Stuttering through Lunch

Back to talking about the NSA Annual Conference.

Before going to a workshop on What’s Hot in Stuttering Research, I went to … lunch.

There was a First Timer’s lunch, so I grabbed a bagged lunch and headed into the hall. Round tables. Chairs. Strangers. Flashbacks to getting seated at weddings. Having to introduce myself to strangers. Danger! I was already halfway into the room, so no turning back. Wait! You’re here to meet people! No, no! Where’s someone I know? Anybody? I looked around. I was still walking. I was being told where to sit and …


Next to a stranger. Other strangers at the table. Someone I know seated next to me! Bonus!

(This is the kind of push-pull that I went through at the conference every day — I’m here to stutter and meet new people. But I’m also holding on to my old ways and fears.)

Alright, let’s get through the introductions. Not all the seats were filled, so that was good. Less stressful at least. The person to my immediate right was not someone who stuttered. She was a speech language pathologist. Well now, this is an interesting change of pace.

While talking to her, I was paying much more attention to my speaking and stuttering. I wasn’t stuttering as much. I wanted to “reset” things after all the stuttering I was doing over the past few hours. Need to keep moving on! Forget the stutter! I talked mostly about my stutter, growing up with it, the job I had now, how awesome the conference was going so far.

She told me about the kind of work she did in the southwest — working at a school district. One thing she said really struck me though — that they needed to do a plan for each student. And then measure progress against that plan. But then … if there’s no cure for stuttering, how could they measure progress?

I haven’t spoken to a lot of SLPs at all (remember, just coming out with all this) so I’d be very interested to hear how this works. I mean, I can see how confidence could increase, how some situations could get better (me ordering at Subway and Starbucks, for instance) but sometimes you just have a bad day, right?

I also wonder if any of this was in play when I did speech therapy during elementary school and high school. Did they figure I was getting better or figure I wasn’t having any serious school issues … so … no need for further therapy?

Stuttering in College Part 1

Obviously there’s a lot that went on my freshman year, so I’ll highlight just one main point today. More tomorrow, of course!

I found out quickly how different college classes are than high school classes. In high school, we’d have several tests per semester, a few quizzes, and some easy homework to turn in. In college, there were three exams. If you messed even part of one of them up, you’d already be knocked down to a B for the whole semester. (I had over a 4.0 in high school, so grade expectations were pretty high for college. Oh, and that scholarship I mentioned? That was also GPA-dependent.)

What I also found out is that I wasn’t so smart after all. Pitt has this program — the University Honors College. So I took a chemistry course through it. It didn’t give you any extra boost to your GPA — like an AP course in high school — but it would look nice on your transcript. And remember, medical school! So I’m in this class, and I really don’t understand a damn thing they’re talking about. I’m reading the book (whenever I can) and still don’t get it. Naturally the thing to do would be to approach the teacher and ask for help. Not gonna happen. I stutter. Approach someone else in the class and try to form a study group? Yeah, also not going to happen. But that’s ok! I’ll suck it up and figure it out on my own. Right. Go figure quantum mechanics out on your own. Good luck with that.

I had heard that the path to success was to sit in the front row and ask questions. That was a joke, right? And they had these lovely after-class sort of sessions — those recitations. You’re with a smaller group and can get help with your homework and talk to the professor or her teaching assistant. I’d go to some of these off and on, but I found the idea of asking a question that I already knew the answer to sort of stupid. Naturally I sat in the back of most of my classes and didn’t utter a word.

With regards to stuttering, the real problem wasn’t class participation — there wasn’t a need for that in 200 and 300-student lecture halls — but the fear of asking for help.

Looking back I think the biggest contributions to a really lousy first semester (academically) were the lack of a study group and the idea that I already knew what was going to be covered in a class.

I strongly believe that if someone who stutters goes to college, they should sit down with some kind of “mentor” who either has just gone through college or is going through it — and has a stutter. The mentor would force the student to review what did and didn’t work in high school, and how that would (or would not) translate to college. Also, to encourage the student to talk to the professors privately about the stutter (an e-mail would be fine as well). For example, such a mentor would have pointed out to me that if I had a strong core of friends who are taking the same classes, would I have such a thing in college? No? Then how would I go about making those friends if I had a stutter? The classes are pretty big, and there’s a lot of change from one to another. I distinctly remember on several occasions thinking that I had gone to too big of a school.

How bad was I at making friends in my classes? To this day (13 years on) I only talk to two people who I met in a biology class. (the other college friends who I still talk to were met through other activities which I’ll get to later).

The worst part is that I only realized toward the end of college that a lack of friends in my core courses was really hurting me — since I was afraid of going to professors for help. Even after getting that first report card, I didn’t sit down and think, Ok, what’s going on here? I was doing so well in high school, so what’s the big disconnect?

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.

Senior Year

In either junior or senior year, I started going to speech therapy again. This was with the school-provided therapist. She was different than before.

I don’t remember much of what we talked about — I think we probably practiced a bunch of words, said some sentences …

But what I do remember very, very well was that she taught me about needing air to talk. For anybody who doesn’t stutter, this is probably not earth-shattering. But for me, it was quite the revelation.

There are often times when I can’t say anything despite trying and trying. Not even a sound comes out. While this is going on, air is slowly escaping. And I need that air to speak. And the less of it there is, the less chance that I’ll be able to say anything. So what did I learn? She said to imagine a balloon that’s filled with air. Then, instead of just letting go and letting the air fly out, slowly let it come out. Hold the opening at a constant size. This is how to breathe, and this is going to help in speaking.

Does it?

Oh yes. It’s the single best thing I can do for my speaking. But I still stutter. Why? Because it’s hard to remember to breathe! No, seriously. I don’t practice this as much as I should. There are often times I’ll just rush into something, run out of air and then be stuck without a sound. Other times I think to myself — breathe — take a breath, a deep one, clear your thoughts, and slowly let out the words. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. To me talking faster (or wanting to talk faster) can sometimes result in more stuttering because of air flow issues, not the words themselves.

But of course since stuttering is stuttering, speaking slowly doesn’t always help. Even if I have the air, I’ve thought of a word I need to say, and then realize I can’t say it. I feel I can’t say it from a few words off.

Senior year definitely had my confidence peaking though. Not only had I learned about this technique, but my classes were easy, friends were great and college was just a few months off. And since a bunch of my friends were in the performing arts, I eventually gave in to peer pressure. By the end of the year, I was up on stage with my buddy doing “Who’s on First.” Two nights, and I didn’t stutter a bit.

Eleventh Grade

Confidence-wise, things were on an upward trajectory going into 11th grade. We had a different French teacher (now in French 4) but a lot of the class was on reading and writing and not so much on speaking. I can’t remember if it was French 4 or 5, but we had to memorize the French National Anthem and sing it as a quiz. We got more points if we did it in front of the class. Or we could choose to do it one-on-one with the teacher out in the hallway. I don’t think a lot of people were singing in front of the class, and I don’t stutter when I sing anyway.

What fun I did manage to have of course came from English class. Another book report!

Before the holiday break, we were told in English class that we’d have to do an oral book report. These would start right after getting back from the break. And would anybody like to volunteer to go first? My hand shot up. My friends looked at me like I was crazy. Yes, I’d like to go first. The reasoning was simple — get it over with. There would be two dozen people after me, and so if I stuttered and bumbled through it, nobody would remember.

Now then, did we remember what happened freshman year when we didn’t read the book? No? Outstanding. Let’s do that again. My book this time was Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow. No idea what motivated this choice. (and no, I haven’t re-read this one either. It’s on my list, I swear). I do remember that I actually read about a quarter of this book. It was enjoyable. But again the procrastination/laziness busted in and messed everything up. And remember, I had an entire 2-week winter break to read this thing. And nothing else to do. We weren’t traveling or hosting anybody. At one point I told my brother about this assignment, and he replied simply, “why don’t you just read the book?” Right.

I got far enough into the book to find a quote about “being and becoming.” I knew this was important. But of course it’s a b-word. I’d have to go up and say “being.” And “becoming.” And well, this was going to be plenty unpleasant.

For the report itself, I got through it. I tried to use the marginal amount of confidence that I had. I stuttered through “being and becoming,” I made eye contact, I let my friends’ faces comfort me. I got it over with. When the grade came back, my teacher had written that it was an “honest” report.

On the one hand I think I did a decent enough job, and maybe that’s why it was honest. On the other, maybe it was because my voice was strained the entire time. Did I physically sound more honest? Was that the deal? Since I wasn’t talking about my stuttering with anybody, I wasn’t about to go into this discussion with my teacher. Move on.

During high school I started paying much more attention to how people spoke. (Especially since I had all these book reports to listen to.) As I sat in the back of English class to listen to my two dozen friends do their reports, I started to notice how much they said “um,” or how they raised their voice at the end of every sentence. I wondered if they were doing the same to me. Or, like my teacher, did they just think I was really nervous?

Tenth Grade

In tenth grade, two major things stand out.

One, I had a bunch of friends who were involved in the performing arts — theatre, choir, band. I had missed the boat on the latter two, but still had a chance to go up on stage and try to get involved in a play or musical. But I remember saying to myself, there’s no way I’m going to do that. There’s an audition, and not only did I not know to prepare for something like that (or, heck, how) but it seemed like everybody who was getting parts had their stuff together way more than me. Besides, the productions that were put on were top-notch — I’d only ruin something like that. I was happy enough to be involved in something like stage crew instead. I could still hang out with my friends, but nobody would have to hear me stutter.

The other thing was, of course, another book report for English class. Couldn’t they just make public speaking a class that I could choose not to take? No? Anyway, I actually read the book this time. It wasn’t a classic though. Something about a plane crash and the subsequent investigation. It was fiction, and it was pretty interesting. One of the main points our teacher stressed was making eye contact while we did our reports. I was feeling pretty good about this report, and I don’t remember stuttering much. What I do remember was jokingly asking everybody during the report if I had made eye contact with them. This brought on the necessarily levity to the situation. I got through it, but our teacher wasn’t really happy about me asking people.

Overall I think tenth grade was pretty easy as far as stuttering. I wasn’t going to speech therapy either. There weren’t any more oral reports, and I had a strong group of friends. My brother, who was a senior at this point, would be heading off to college the next year. He and I were getting closer because I realized I wouldn’t see him as much.

The summer after tenth grade I got my first job working retail. This was non-eventful; I didn’t have to cold-call anybody or talk much at all. Just ring people up at the register.

Confidence was rising nicely, but I still had a long way to go.

Ninth Grade

The transition from junior high to high school wasn’t as bad as from elementary to junior high. For one thing, I was still running around with a good group of friends, and I had a few classes with them. I was watching more Letterman and making my own top ten lists to amuse everybody. Even French wasn’t as bad since the class was smaller, and we had a different teacher. I do remember goofing off a lot in that class though. That would probably explain why my French grammar is lousy.

What I do remember is an oral book report that I had to do. I don’t recall any during junior high school, and I think I would remember that sort of thing since I remember all the reports I gave in four years of high school.

For whatever stupid reason, I chose The Three Musketeers. I probably should have looked at the names of the characters. I mean, seriously, d’Artagnan? I’m supposed to go up in front of people and say this name over and over again without stuttering? Are you kidding? And the other names, Athos, Porthos, Aramis. I could do Porthos probably. I wasn’t smart enough to a.) pick a shorter book and b.) pick a book with fewer characters who have easy-to-say names.

I’m sure we had weeks and weeks to prepare for this book report. And of course I didn’t really even read the book. I didn’t have the Clif’s Notes, either. I think I must have skimmed a few pages here and there and made up the rest. (Remember, this was all pre-Wikipedia). Actually, maybe I used a children’s version as a crutch? (side note: I have not gone back and read the book. I should probably do that.) Maybe I thought that by not reading the book, I wouldn’t have to do the report …I’d like to also point out that since I’d never done an oral book report before, I didn’t really know how to prepare for it.

As to be expected, the oral report was wretched. Not only was I not prepared (thus no confidence) but those damn names kept on having to be uttered. And all this in front of my friends whose opinions of me was a great concern. In reality, of course, they were probably just spacing out, thinking I was nervous, and well, soon it’ll be their turn and they’ve got other things to worry about.

Two more crappy things came of this — one, another person in the class did her report on The Three Musketeers (and, by the strong narrative she presented, it was obvious she had actually read the thing) and two, in eleventh grade I had to also give an oral report that I also didn’t prepare for. Should have learned my lesson.

The same English class also demanded — near the end of the year — to go up in front of the class and recite a few lines from Romeo and Juliet. I did this pretty well, but managed to forget for a few seconds one of the lines. Fortunately a buddy of mine mouthed the words, and I was good to go. It’s an interesting contrast — having to prepare and memorize — versus half-assing a classic and bumbling through it.

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