Reading to an Audience

IMG_0583I know I’m up on the second anniversary of the blog, so I’m cooking something up for that. In the meantime, I’ve had a chance to read at my daughter’s school. I talked about this a couple of weeks ago.

Things at work have slowed down enough that I had a chance to go in today and read to her class. She’s in pre-k, so that means a bunch of 4- and 5-year olds. I want to say that “I haven’t had time before” to go in and read because work has been so busy, but I think subconsciously I was afraid of reading in front of others — even if they are just kids.

The book that I read was Rosie Revere Engineer. I’ve read it at home to her a bunch of times. I don’t stutter at home when I read it. At all.

I wasn’t sure what the protocol was for reading to the class. I suppose I could have e-mailed her teacher, but my daughter said I could just come in. Right. So I did that. I took the kids to school and walked her to her classroom, book in hand. The teachers had been notified that I’d be there. We got there at 7:50, and she said I could read to them first thing, just after 8.

I didn’t really flip through the book the night before or have a practice reading in the morning, either. I had read it a bunch of times. I was feeling fine about it. I was happy to be doing it, and my daughter was really fired up about me being there. But when I got to the school and had to stand around for a few minutes, I flipped through some of the pages. I saw some words that … instantly triggered feelings for me. Things that started with l. Or w. I took a deep breath. This would be fine. I’d breathe, I’d play with my voice, I’d project to the back of the room. Maybe I’d stumble or stutter a bit, but no big deal.

It really felt like when you were a kid and could finally go on the big roller coaster at the park. You just say, “yeah, of course I do!” and you stand there in line with the adults. And you get closer and closer. And then you think, no, wait. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.

Stuttering is messed up because as I sat there waiting, the thought of abandoning the effort did cross my mind. But what would I say? Would it really matter? I could just leave. My daughter would be devastated, though. And really, it’s a quick reading, first thing in the morning. If you stutter a little, you won’t die.

Alright, I’m up. My daughter takes me by my hand and leads me to the chair in front of the room, There are about two dozen little kids, and half a dozen adults. I dove in, enthusiastically.

I got through a few words and then … stuttering. I got stuck on some words, but not for long. I got stuck on a w-word for a really long time, and heard a little murmur run through the crowd. As I was dragging out some other words and then taking a big pause to collect myself, the teacher remarked, “this is a pretty long book; do you want some water?” I said no, and pushed on.

(A word about this book. So … it’s probably a little bit above the audience that I read to. As a book, the message is really, really good. But it is a little confusing how it’s laid out. So even a somewhat astute kid might not “get it” the first few times. All that being said, it’s also a good message for someone who stutters — Rosie fails and is laughed at. She fails again, is laughed at, but then encouraged to keep trying.)

I got through the book. I was sweating a little, but otherwise in good shape. I did stutter. A lot more than if I was just reading quietly to all of my kids. I tried to remember to breathe and find my right pace. I did inflect my voice and make sure I was looking at the kids occasionally.

I think that I would do it again. Maybe not to her class this year, but next year or whatever. I think that with some practice I could certainly get better at it. Did not reading it in the morning hurt my fluency? Maybe, maybe not. But I think it might have made me even more apprehensive about signing up, seeing all the words that I think I’d stutter on.

 

Rehearsal

I mentioned having to do a presentation at work. Well, after my colleague said he was nervous, I told him I wasn’t at all — but the stuttering was just annoying. We then joined the others and did a run-through.

Rehearsal? What a concept. I have thought, for the longest time, that I don’t need such a thing. That I can just get up there and talk, and I’ll be fine. I know the message, I know the audience, I know I won’t be nervous. And yet, time and time again, no rehearsal always has me getting up there and stuttering, which causes quite the downward spiral.

I know there are benefits to rehearsals. But I just think I’m above that. However this time our group wanted to run through it, so I didn’t have a choice. So I stood up in front of my four colleagues, held the paper in my hand (I only had one slide) remembered to take that first deep breath (but none after that) and talked through it.

I stuttered. Here and there. It was only 3-4 minutes, no big deal. After we were all done, my colleague who said he was nervous said he didn’t even know I stuttered until I told him (ok, so maybe I’m still being a little covert … or not really talking to him that much … we are in different departments). And asked if I only stuttered when I had to speak in front of people. Ah, no, I have 30 years of experience doing this. But it was all very supportive and encouraging. We encouraged the others, and that was that.

And you know what? I felt totally different after that rehearsal. I didn’t think about the presentation or stuttering on words at all. I was calm. I knew what I had to say. I knew how fast I had to talk. When to pause, what questions I might get. Prepared. Confident.

So, presentation time. Our group got up, it was my turn to talk. The heart beating in my chest so loud that I couldn’t think of anything else? Not there. The sweating? Nope. The tightness in my throat? Nope.

I stood up, took a breath and started talking. I stuttered. But not too hard, and not too long. I got through the slide, and even got a good rhythm going. I was asked questions challenging our points. I answered them. We all talked about them. I stood up there, not feeling worried about my speech.

After it was done one of my other colleagues remarked that I had done a good job. I think this was a combination of content and presentation praise.

So it turns out that for me and my stuttering at least, rehearsal is a very useful tool. I had an extremely positive experience with it.

 

Not nervous at all

This will the first part of a story regarding a recent presentation at work. The presentation wasn’t that big — we were put into groups of 4, given 2 days, and had to present on the third to about 40 people. We only were given 45 total minutes, half of which we were supposed to speak. (the rest for discussion) So … 24 minutes of speaking, 4 speakers (well, five in my group) so five minutes a piece. Take out some transition time, maybe a single question here and there, and it’s really 3-4 minutes of talking.

Anyway, the morning of our presentation, I was chatting with our team leader. He said he was nervous. One of the people on the “panel” made him a bit nervous all the time.

I think most people who stutter have had this happen to them — a fluent person tell them about being nervous publicly speaking. And you look at them like, are you serious? You’re nervous?

But that’s the easy thing to do. Get pissed off. I just sort of dismissed it but saw it instead as an opportunity. I haven’t been advertising much at all lately. So I said, “oh, well, I’m not nervous at all. But I do stutter, so that just makes it a little harder to talk.”

And it was true. I really don’t get nervous about public speaking in a “getting up in front of others” sense. That doesn’t bother me at all. I’ve done it before. It’s the opening my mouth and betrayal that annoy me more than anything.

The other thing for this particular presentation was that I’d be speaking in front of all my colleagues — who I probably talk to at least once a week or more. So I was feeling fairly comfortable.

Tomorrow — just how did things actually turn out?

 

Looking for the right connection

I was at a meeting several weeks ago with a lot of people. It was an open kind of discussion, if there’s a problem, let’s get it out there, and let’s talk about it. So I had a problem. So I raised my hand (eff you, stuttering!) and stuttered away, stating my issue.

What I noticed as I tried to look around the room was that someone wasn’t interested. At all. Face sort of down, exasperated, get-on-with-it, whatever. We all know this look. Now, was this just because of me and my stuttering? In the moment, I certainly thought so. I could be totally wrong. But I’ve seen it enough to think well, that’s what that is.

But what else did I see? I saw neutral faces. Eye contact. And at the far end of the bell curve? A small smile, a nodding head. Agreement. Understanding.

I think for a long time I’ve been too focused on the wrong end of the bell curve. The dismissive looks and boredom. I need to focus more on those who are actually listening and engaging, those who don’t care about the stuttering and want to hear my message. That keeps me going. I may forget to breathe, to pace myself, to think clearly, but at least I have their attention for the moment, and I shouldn’t waste that.

I know if I have friends in the audience and start to smile a little, they will too. I can then hold their eyes for a little longer before going on to the next smirk or the next nod.

Your virtual stuttering reality

The other day I mentioned stuttering and speaking and Google Glass. There is some recent research on this, and Shelley Brundage talked to Stutter Talk recently about it.

There were no significant differences in the %SS across audience conditions, suggesting that the frequency of stuttering is similar in virtual and real world conditions. These findings suggest that similar responses occur after speeches to virtual and live audiences.

You have to listen to this interview. It’s great. They discuss safety, control and repeatability with regards to virtual reality usage. Also how this technology can be used in therapy. It’s probably still a few years (hopefully months) away, but it’d be nice to see more customizable virtual reality apps for the masses. Of course there’s Google Cardboard which is a good start…(I’m tempted to order this).

How else can this help those of us who stutter? Well, a lot of what I’ve been seeing on Facebook groups lately is along the lines of, “I have an interview tomorrow, what should I do?”

I suppose you could find a friend to practice with. But there’s a lot of effort in that, and the interaction may not be helpful. I know there are a lot of us who become very comfortable with close friends and find we don’t stutter with them as much. (And yes, it can sometimes be the total opposite). Also, how you react to a smiling man may not be the same as a frowning woman.

But if you had virtual reality at your disposal, you could run a bunch of different scenarios in the week leading up to the interview. The thing that I’ve found about interviews is that you tend to get better at interviews the more you do them. But the problem is getting the interview in the first place. There’s applying, waiting, e-mailing, more waiting, maybe a phone screen, more waiting, an e-mail, more waiting, and then the buildup to the big day. That’s a lot of time to worry yourself into a total mess.

The paper talked about speaking in front of groups. You don’t always have days and days to prepare yourself for a presentation. Maybe a day or two. And sometimes you’re put on the spot. So what about practicing at home? You go to work and see your boss give a presentation. Go home and practice it yourself. If you did that every day for a half hour, some of the barriers to public speaking would be removed. Too often when we’re put on the spot we forget about everything — breathing, pacing, eye contact, hand movements — and just focus on trying to get those words out in some coherent fashion. Virtual reality would allow us to practice all of these things.

Even at the most basic level — using the phone — virtual reality would be useful. All I’d need to see is an image of a phone with that “mute” light on and off. And someone asking who’s on the call. I’d really love to be able to reprogram my brain to get past this (assuming that’s possible).

Another sporting view of Stuttering

When you see a professional athlete, what do you see? (Aside from the occasional mistake, of course). We see performance at a high level. For play after play, game after game, season after season.

What do we think when we see a seasoned public speaker? The confidence, the eye contact, the message, the audience connection. It’s also performance at a high level.

Now think about how many professional athletes there are. And how many really good public speakers there are. Not many, right? We know by now that we can’t do even half the things a professional athlete can do. But can we still enjoy sport with our family and friends? Of course. Are you bothered when you can’t throw a football 50 yards or crush a baseball past the outfield wall? Probably not.

Shouldn’t it be the same for speaking? Why do we see people on television and think we need to be that eloquent and strong and fluent? Hardly anybody else is. The next time you hear someone fluent at work during a meeting, listen to their hesitations, their fillers. They’re all over the place. Are they bothered? Likely not. So when we’re not having the most fluent of days, should we really be comparing ourselves to such a high standard? Definitely not.

The other side of advertising your stutter

The way that advertising your stutter is supposed to work is that you’re put more at ease. You don’t have to hide, you don’t have to avoid words, you don’t have to feel embarrassed — it’s all out there. And that’s great. That can work.

But there’s another side to advertising — the other person. Or the other people.

Imagine you’re someone who’s covert. You work at a larger company. There’s an all-hands meeting. A new regional manager is coming to talk to everybody about what’s going on, what changes are going to be made, and how everybody is affected.

And the first thing he says is that, well, “I might take a little longer to get my message across because I stutter.”

Then he dives into his spiel, a confident, fluent statement here, a few stutters there, and then by the time it’s over, everybody goes back to their desks. Your desk mate dismisses it all with, “Sounds like our department is fine. I dunno about those other guys though. Well, whatever, at least we got donuts.”

No mention of the stuttering, just another person coming in, talking, stuttering, getting the message across.

And yet, here you are, covert stutterer. If they can do it, why can’t you? That person stood against their fears and delivered a message to a room full of people. Maybe they’ve been doing it for years, but they’re still up there, still trying.

Something like this never happened to me. I don’t know what I would make of it. I’d like to think that if it did, I’d want to reach out to them and ask them about their stuttering.

But also, as I move up slowly at my own company, it makes me wonder about my own next public speech. About my next opportunity to advertise in front of strangers. Who knows, maybe I’ll shake something loose with someone who’s covert.

Stories untold

I think if you asked people who knew me very well, they’d say I was pretty outgoing. That I talked as much as anybody else, and am always up for a good time.

I think if you asked people who didn’t know me as well, they’d probably say I was pretty quiet and didn’t say much.

It’s that cliche of, if you get to know me, I’ll open up a lot more. And obviously that’s got everything to do with stuttering. I’m uncomfortable at first (and for a while, really) but once the initial hesitations are done, the stories will flow.

But not always.

I find myself [trying] to tell stories to friends. And I’m stuttering a bunch on them. Not just the introduction or a name here and there. Like every part of the plot. Names, places, times, relevant jokes. I’m bumbling around so much, that I think it’s not worth it. I’ll push on ahead, finish the story, and then store it away forever.

I think that there’s no way I can get through it again without stuttering, so I’m not going to bother trying with anybody else. It’s a once-told story. Then that same attitude goes toward a bunch of untold stories as well. I think about what I have to say, compare it to a mental list of Words I Hate, and well, nobody hears that story either.

On a related note, I suppose none of my friends really thought I stuttered much because often (in a group of friends) they’d defer to me to “tell the story.” Then it’s me on the spot. I have to get through it quickly and smoothly. Everybody is looking at me, expecting, smiling, wanting to laugh. Talk about pressure.

Stuttering in children’s books

Piglet

So what am I supposed to do with this? What do you do with this? This is from a Winnie-the-Pooh story. In this same book are stories about Mickey and Minnie, so we’ve only really read those. But I was flipping through to try to change things up, and I started reading this. I did a little bumble here and there, and then decided that my kid wasn’t paying attention so … let’s read something else.

As I’ve said before, I don’t stutter at all while reading children’s books to the kids. It’s pretty nice. I speak slower, pace myself, and breathe better. I guess I’m supposed to do the act and say the words that are printed? Does Piglet have to talk like that? I know he’s scared, but seriously, are the kids going to pick up on the difference?

So far this is the only time I’ve seen “stuttering” in a children’s book. But given how popular Pooh is, I’m sure it’s in every one of his books.

Online Stuttering Workshop

Next workshop that I attended at the NSA Annual Conference was a panel discussion — on online communities. And I was a panelist …

Katie Gore, MA, CCC-SLP, put the panel together. The point was to talk about what types of online stuttering communities there are, how they came to be, what their purpose is, and how they carry out their mission. There were very diverse representatives — a stuttering blog/podcast, a video blog, a podcast, a Google Hangout, and me with my blog.

Katie actually approached me through Reddit. She is active on there, and the stuttering discussion is growing.

She’s got a practice in Chicago:

Speech IRL was founded in the spring of 2013. I had spent the past few years working individually with adult clients, and realized that students and professionals have communication demands that go far beyond the usual scenarios targeted in a traditional speech therapy clinic setting. At the same time, I realized that most of the practices in Chicago were structured around a pediatric or hospital-associated rehabilitative model. My goal in forming speech IRL was to create a practice that could provide flexible, intensive speech therapy that simulates real-life challenges as much as possible. This allows us to do whatever it takes to achieve your goals– the city of Chicago is our clinic!

Daniele Rossi & Samuel Dunsiger were on the panel to talk about Stutter Social, which is a Google Hangout for people who stutter to meet up online and talk.

What is Stutter Social?

Stutter Social is an organization that connects people who stutter (PWS) through Google+ Hangouts. Participating in a Hangout is a fun, free, and safe way to connect with other PWS. Discussion often revolves around stuttering-related issues, but sometimes we just chat about our day or a good movie. We are a very welcoming and friendly bunch so don’t be shy and come join us whenever is convenient for you. We have a Hangout Calendar that lists all the different Hangouts occurring each week.

I also had a chance to buy Daniele’s book. I read through it almost non-stop when I got back to Saudi. I’ll post a review in a few days.

Daniele also talked about his podcast.

And you can participate:

Record an mp3 of yourself speaking and e-mail it to me. Talk about whatever you like! Your positive and negative experiences with stuttering, any tips you have, how your day went, what you day job is, your favourite colour, whatever you like. Send me your audio as often as you wish. You can even sing if you want to. You don’t even have to reveal you’re name. Then I’ll play your submitted audio on my podcast.

Pamela A. Mertz was also on the panel from Make Room for the Stuttering. Not only does she have a long-running blog, but also a long-running podcast, the Women Who Stutter Podcast:

Make Room For The Stuttering was created by me, Pamela A Mertz (initials: pam) after realizing that I have a story to tell. I was a covert stutterer for many years, and was afraid to stutter publicly. Life circumstances and maturity have helped me realize that I wasted a lot of time, and that I much prefer the authentic me. My defining moment was getting fired from a job that I loved and had held for more than 20 years, because I had stuttered publicly.

The final person on the panel was Jacquelyn Revere, who’s been blogging and video blogging about stuttering. Jacquelyn is very active on twitter and has a youtube channel as well.

As I’ve said before, I’m blown away by people who stutter who just put themselves out there. I do it, sure, but on my own terms and certainly not on video. But … it’s something I need to work up to. Maybe a podcast episode first …

I need to update the links and resources on this site based on the above. I’ve noticed there are a lot of people active on Twitter with great links and resources. Most of the Sunday link roundup information comes from Twitter. Speaking of which … I think I may move that to Friday once and for all.

So how did I do talking about this blog? Well, like I said before the conference, I was going to wing it instead of preparing a bunch of talking points. Not exactly wing it, I suppose. I thought about some main points pretty thoroughly before the panel as well as while sitting up there nervously. I really thought that I would be confident with this — it’s my own blog, I know why I want to do it, I had been stuttering and talking a bunch at the conference a lot already. Maybe this could be a nice smooth delivery?

Not so much. I stutter, so I stuttered. But anyway, I got my point across — that another voice in the stuttering blogosphere is good for everybody — and that’s what’s important.

Stuttering at the open mic

The second workshop on the second day was Open Mic.

It’s a simple premise, really. There’s the microphone, a room full of conference-goers, and that’s it. So you suck it up, take the mic, and start talking. To a bunch of strangers. About whatever you want.

Deep breath. I’m doing this, I’m doing this, I’m doing this.

I walked in there with someone who I met the first day. After the host explained the deal, my friend stood up and took the mic. Just like that. He didn’t even think about it, he just did it. Again, seriously? This is how people are rolling here?

After he was done, another hand went up, another person got up to speak. Everybody stuttered. Everybody in the audience listened attentively. I sat there in awe. Yes, I had just been to a few workshops where people made comments and stuttered. Or the presenters stuttered. But here are a bunch of people just getting up and putting themselves out there. Strangers to strangers.

About half an hour in, I looked around the room and started doing the math. There were way more people in here than time allowed. There was another open mic event later in the conference, though. I started making excuses in my head. The covert in me made an appearance and started making really persuasive suggestions.

No.

I came here to listen, yes, but I also came here to talk.

I put my hand up after someone finished. Don’t think about it. Just stand up and get up there. Start talking. Stop thinking so much.

I had been doing some thinking while in my seat. What would I say? I would talk about how I told my friends I would be attending a stuttering conference. And how all of them said the same thing — that they knew I stuttered, but it didn’t seem like a big deal to them (or me). But of course it was.

So I got up there. And tried to introduce myself. And stuttered. And then I started in on this little reflection. And stuttered some more. And more. But again, nobody reacted negatively. They just sat there and listened. I kept things short, and then sat back down. That was it. I felt good. I had faced the stuttering head on, and it didn’t do anything to me. I lived through it.

What was becoming a little alarming to me was how badly I was stuttering during the conference. This public speaking attempt really highlighted it. But then I thought, well, I’m definitely out of my comfort zone, I didn’t prepare anything, and I barely do any public speaking to strangers anyway. And oh yeah, you do stutter, and that’s not going to just go away because you think it should.

All in all it ended up being a pretty taxing speaking morning. First making a comment at the bilingual workshop and now this. Between all the introductions from the day before, I had spoken more to a room full of strangers in the past two days than in the past year.

And through it all, nothing negative was happening.

Bilingual Stuttering Workshop

The first workshop that I attended on Day 2 of the NSA Annual Stuttering Conference was Bilingual Stuttering.

Again, I didn’t really know what to expect, and again, I was really impressed with the discussion and comments people made.

For me, I grew up in a bilingual household — my parents spoke Urdu as well as English. But I only picked up on the Urdu as far as some understanding. I rarely, if ever, spoke Urdu growing up. This was because others would usually laugh at what I was trying to say. So coupled with my self conciousness as someone who stutters, it was a receipe for never bothering to learn. And what was the point? Everything in the States is in English anyway.

In junior high and high school I took French. Again, I did pretty good “on paper” but rarely spoke because I was self-concious about how I sounded.

And now, here in Saudi, I’m surrounded by Arabic-speakers. I can read Arabic, but can’t speak or understand it.

So what did I take away from this workshop? The first thing that blew me away was that one of the presenters (a native English speaker who stutters) speaks a foreign language. At work. As part of her job. So, in front of clients, on the phone, the whole thing. I sat there in awe. Seriously? And here I am, afraid of practicing a few Arabic words at the office with friendly company?

Some said they stuttered while speaking another language, others said they didn’t. Some stuttered more because they couldn’t be covert — they couldn’t use another word to substitute because well, they didn’t know many vocab words.

I was sitting there getting a little nervous, though. I had a comment! And damned if I was going to come all this way and not say what I wanted to say. I was remembering the goals that I had set before the conference. Ok! So here we go.

Sutter, stutter, stutter, point sort of being made, stutter a lot more, nobody’s laughing, stutter, stutter, everybody’s just patiently waiting, stutter, stutter, make comment, ok, done.

Alrighty then.

What I managed to say is that I am afraid to speak in a foreign language because I know it won’t be perfect. And I want it to be perfect. I don’t want the listener to grab onto how I’m saying something instead of what the message is. This of course is a direct tie with stuttering — the person who stutters is afraid of how the message is perceived instead of what the message is actually saying.

I said that I needed to be more rational about this — it didn’t have to be perfect. Case in point, I’ve got a bunch of non-native English speaking engineers who report to me. Their English isn’t perfect. But they carry on anyway, not really caring. And I don’t care about how they’ve said something — and I can usually decipher the message.

Another important point they made is that we deserve to speak a foreign language. We don’t have to let our stutter get in the way of that, either.

Yes. I do deserve to speak the French that I learned. And Urdu. And Arabic. Need to get that into my head.

Another workshop done and another really great perspective on something that I had thought wasn’t going to change. I got a lot of encouragement and inspiration from those around me who were stuttering but still speaking foreign languages without any hangups.

This definitely had an impact on the trip to France that I took a few days after my Stateside vacation. But we’ll get to that in a few days.

Stuttering your way to financial ruin and social ridicule

The second workshop that I attended had the subject title and was done by Steve Brown.

For the record, here are all of the descriptions for these workshops — so you can read the description on there of who Steve is and what this was going to be all about.

Alright, so I had just come from the First Timer’s Workshop and was feeling good. I was feeling good about jumping into the deep end and actually going to this conference. But I was mentally taxed a good bit already — I usually have to stutter our my name once a month (or even less) — and I had just done a year’s worth of really rough introductions in less than an hour. Thankfully everybody had name tags, so even if I forgot someone’s name, they happily pointed to it. They also had our hometown on there. Mine was listed as Lancaster. That’s true, but I’m living in Saudi now … I can’t remember if the registration form had that space on there or if they just used the billing address for our credit card. Anyway, at first during the first timer’s I wasn’t saying much about my hometown. But by the end of the conference, people were pretty surprised that I was living and working in Saudi.

I walked from the first workshop to the second — and had to go past hundreds of other conference-goers to do so. Should I have been jumping in again and introducing myself? Yeah, probably. But the old me was still leading the charge. You’ve just stuttered your head off! Look at these people! You stutter still! Avoid at all costs! Go put on more deodorant, too!

Ok, ok. Fine, but we’re going to meet some new people eventually, dammit.

I went into the next workshop room and assessed the situation. Smaller room. The speaker would be standing up front, so he might call on me if I sat in front. Unacceptable. But I can’t sit in the back! No! I didn’t come all the way here to hide in the back. I’ll sit in the middle. Should I slide in next to someone who I know? I don’t know anybody. What about a stranger? I could meet someone here, right? You will! No, let’s just sit down and see what this is all about.

Let me just summarize what Steve ended up talking about — his stutter, how he overcame it through really hard work, and how some of those techniques to avoid and use other ways to communicate made him stand out from his peers. He also talked about the importance of body language and setting ourselves up for success before our mouths are even open — don’t slouch! He told us to focus on the message, not the stutter.

Body language is something I really need to read up on. I find myself slouching or tightening up my shoulders all the time. I’ve been trying to practice more eye contact as well.

I liked Steve’s talk. It was funny, it was upbeat, and I could definitely relate.

But as a first timer, there was something off (for me). Something didn’t add up.

I mean, I’m sitting there, someone who stutters, and this guy says he does too. Yet he’s fluently telling us about his past and present. He’s easily walking back and forth on stage, making eye contact, telling jokes, waving his hands here and there.

But then that was the point.

I started thinking about it more — he’s done this before. He’s told these stories before. He’s confident with his material and being in front of people. That was inspirational for me. That could be me. I want to be up there telling my story some day.

So what did I take away from this? Well, that your stuttering really doesn’t have to stop you from your goals. That you can either stutter openly and fight through it, use alternate communication methods or a combination of the two.

(Also, looking back on it, I should have taken more detailed notes — but hey, I’m learning for next year.)

Just for reference, on the first day of the Conference there were 17 workshops across three timeslots. This is a lot of the reason why I want to go next year (and forever after) — I saw a bunch of stuff on the program that looked/sounded interesting that I wasn’t able to attend.

Stuttering in College Part 7

Today’s story comes from senior year. This is when things had really taken off for me in college — I had made it to editor in chief of the newspaper. So it turns out that despite not having read anything about “setting goals, visualizing success or having a positive outlook,” I managed to set a goal freshman year and attain it. Confidence-wise, this was huge — and something I’ve used a lot since.

At some point during the year, I got a call from the US Department of Education. They were having a conference in downtown Pittsburgh, and wondered if I could sit on a panel and talk about alcohol and college kids. Well, if this was the thing that university paper editors did, well, let’s do it, then!

Since I was pretty busy, I didn’t look into what the conference was all about, and who else would be there. I don’t remember the exact details of what the talk was about, but I remember the logistics of it. Naturally since I was a college student, I put off writing the speech until the last minute. Of course since I didn’t drink, I also didn’t know what to say about alcohol and college kids. So two days before it was due, I started asking my friends at the office. There are only two key things that I remember learning from my friends that I incorporated into this speech. The first is that if your friend drinks himself silly and gets hurt badly, this has no affect on your own drinking. You might pause to consider it, but you’ll still carry on. The other is that if colleges think they can stop underage drinking, they’re mistaken. That has to start way before, during the early years of high school.

Anyway, I typed up the speech at the office, and left it there on the computer. For whatever reason, I thought I’d go in the morning, print it out, and then head downtown. Cruelly, the conference was on a Sunday morning. So of course I got up late. And drove up to the office in a huge hurry, printed it out, and headed downtown. I think I actually woke up about 10 minutes before I was to give the speech. Who makes a college kid go downtown early on a Sunday morning?

I parked up downtown and ran over to the hotel. I found the room, and got up on the little stage at the table. There were three of us, I think. Someone else was already talking. I don’t recall if I had to sit or stand to give the speech. Anyway, soon it was my turn, so I looked at my page and opened my mouth.

If there were 500 words on the page, I stuttered on 600 of them. Seriously, it was a total train wreck. I tried to look up once in a while. I saw a smiling face or two, but otherwise a lot of bored looks. I’m sure the audience members probably just thought that I was super-nervous. I mean, hey, here’s a college-kid giving a speech in front of a bunch of strangers. Everybody is afraid of public speaking, right? It was really, really quiet in there. And here I was, trying to drone on. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t relax, I couldn’t get any kind of rhythm going. I was like a kite dragging along the ground.

I definitely didn’t take the prep work seriously enough. I also severely underestimated my stutter. I hadn’t given a speech or done any public speaking like that while in college. I probably thought I’d be ok since I had been doing the undergraduate teaching assistant thing. But that was more spontaneous. Reading from a script was awful.

What I should have done is written the speech a few weeks before and practiced the hell out of it in front of friends. Gained some confidence. Gained some insight. And really get some ownership of the material. But no. I just winged it, and it was disastrous.

After the speech was over, I just sort of sat there, trying to disappear. There was the rest of the conference to check out, but I sheepishly had a little snack and then got back in the car and went home. I never mentioned it to any of my friends.

Tales of the Stuttering Ambush

Today I want to talk about getting ambushed. Maybe it’s too strong a term, but really, I don’t know how else to describe the feeling.

Here’s one example. I’ll write up a bunch for this week.

You walk into a meeting with your own people. These are coworkers who have been there a long time. They know your name, you know theirs. Maybe some of them have heard you stutter. Nobody says anything about, and life goes on nicely. After everybody sits down, you notice someone new. How did you miss this? There’s only like a dozen people in here. Who is this? Have I seen them before? What are they here for? To talk to us? You notice they’re chatting and laughing with one of your coworkers. How nice. The new person has made friends already. No, seriously, who is this?

The meeting gets started, and it’s just another staff meeting. Going through what work is happening now, and what work is coming up. Then the boss remembers, and …

“Oh, I almost forgot, we have a visitor from one of our offices. He’ll be here for two weeks doing …”

Ambushed.

You don’t hear the rest, because you know he’s about to say …

“So if we could go around the room and uh, just introduce yourself, what department you’re from. That kind of thing. Let’s start on this side.”

No, no, no. I was having a good morning. I had recounted some mundane activities from last night to a coworker this morning without stuttering much. I didn’t have any conference calls to join today that could have made me nervous. It’s almost the weekend. Heck, it’s almost lunch. And I was going to go my favorite place and order the same thing — heck, I don’t even have to say anything there! They already know my order!

And now this. Wow, are they going around the room fast. Why did I sit so far from the door? Do I have my cell phone? Maybe someone will call! Yeah, then I can jump up and … drat. Left my phone in my office.

Can everybody hear how hard my heart is pounding right now? Cause seriously, it’s really, really loud. I think it’s going to tear open my shirt. This is crazy. Think happy thoughts. Think happy thoughts. You know these people. Smile? Breathe? Yeah, breathe some more. Not helping? Wow, can my heart actually be picking up speed?

And now it’s my turn. All eyes on me.

Surely they can hear my heart now. It’s so quiet in here now.

…and I can’t say my name. Let me try again.

Nope.

Again? Again? Now it’s just dragging out. Still dragging.

Ah, there it is. Breathe. Remember you were supposed to do that earlier. Did you forget again?

I try to mumble out my title and department. That’s done. That’s enough for now. I’m silent. Yeah, next person now.

Unfortunately the cloud has formed over me, and I forget to pay attention to anything the new guy says. Well, whatever, I can figure that out later.

Long sigh.

I look at my watch. Only an hour til lunch. Glad I don’t have to say anything there.

Sunday Link Roundup

Another Sunday and some more links from the world of stuttering.

Here’s a column on stuttering from a young lady in British Columbia.

The voice in my head is exceptionally capable in saying – screaming – my name, hollering the three syllables with such desperation that I seriously contemplate the likelihood of telepathy.

It’s so frustrating to be able to sit in the car on your way to a meeting practicing your name over and over again … and never stuttering on it. Again and again. Emphasizing the first syllable, maybe the second. Paying closer attention to your tongue. Thinking about your breathing. Again and again. Making a song out of it. But then of course when the time comes at the meeting to “go around and introduce ourselves,” everything just falls flat.

A nice response to the letter here.

Idaho State University is taking a holistic approach to stuttering.

“The clinic we are developing is the first of its kind to use interprofessional care to address the multi-dimensionality of the stuttering syndrome,” Hudock said.

That’s what this blog aims to be about — the rest of the iceberg and the heavy emotional burden. I’m very interested to see how this goes and if other clinics start trying a similar approach.

And of course, the most terrifying job of all — being out in front of the public on a daily basis. Again, a drama-teacher-influenced approach a la Emily Blunt has helped this gentleman.

“I didn’t see how I’d be able to achieve anything – how would I get a job, have friends, or find a wife?”
Gareth sought help through a variety of NHS courses, but nothing worked, until, at age 16, he started sessions with a drama teacher.
“As the sessions went on my speech started to become more fluent,” he explained.

More about him here on Stuttertalk.

And lastly, some great news out of Indiana for baseball legend Tommy John:

When he was a junior, the dean of boys told him he had a chance to be class valedictorian, but there were six girls in front of him. “That gave me something to work for,” John said. “It got my competitive juices going.” He said he studied hard to be number one, thinking all along that he would be giving the speech at graduation, until he was told another student would be making the address. “They said I’d be doing the invocation. They really didn’t tell me why,” he recalled.

Stuttering in College Part 4

Let me wrap up freshman year today with this article — it’s something I talked about earlier. As I said before, the whole of an article may not be what point I want to make, but sometimes I find something in there that’s interesting and applicable.

The negative thoughts took different forms in each individual, of course, but they mostly gathered around two ideas. One set of thoughts was about belonging. Students in transition often experienced profound doubts about whether they really belonged — or could ever belong — in their new institution. The other was connected to ability. Many students believed in what Carol Dweck had named an entity theory of intelligence — that intelligence was a fixed quality that was impossible to improve through practice or study. And so when they experienced cues that might suggest that they weren’t smart or academically able — a bad grade on a test, for instance — they would often interpret those as a sign that they could never succeed. Doubts about belonging and doubts about ability often fed on each other, and together they created a sense of helplessness. That helplessness dissuaded students from taking any steps to change things. Why study if I can’t get smarter? Why go out and meet new friends if no one will want to talk to me anyway? Before long, the nagging doubts became self-fulfilling prophecies.

So my stuttering basically made me doubt whether I could ever fit in or not, and a few bad grades in a bunch of classes made me wonder if I could ever succeed long-term. It would have been nice to have someone there to give me a lot more guidance on all of this.

The counselors who we had there would help in selecting classes and figuring out a rough idea of a major. I wanted to do the whole pre-med thing. But there was never any follow-up. They never asked that we come back to see them and make sure we were making adequate progress. And since I was so good at hiding my stutter, they never said anything about that either.

For whatever reason, during freshman year I also signed up to become an undergraduate teaching assistant. I probably thought this would help my confidence out a little bit and get me some “public” speaking practice. I had done some one-on-one tutoring in high school and enjoyed it. I probably also thought I should do something extracurricular that’s academically-inclined to keep up that whole medical school dream.

Basically at Pitt they had math classes that were also given at the high school level. That is to say if a student wasn’t very strong at math, they still had to take algebra or trigonometry as part of their major. It was also for adult students who had to meet minimum requirements. So the teaching assistants could be undergraduates instead of graduate students.

The deal was that you’d take this single-semester course, and then in the next semesters, you’d be able to have a recitation of your own — going through course material, grading papers, helping the professors proctor exams. The odd thing was that I only remember doing one presentation in front of this class — and I’d be “presenting” during my recitations. I still don’t understand how I didn’t freak out and bolt this course. I mean, it’s public speaking. Weekly. With questions.

Despite all of that, during my sophomore and junior years, I enjoyed doing this a lot. I think along with the student newspaper, it helped keep my confidence in the black despite the heavy anchor of lousy grades.

Alright so next week I’ll take a break from talking about college to getting back to some situations I run into on a daily or weekly basis. Fun simple things like ordering food at Subway and then getting ambushed by friends bringing new people to lunch.

Stuttering in College Part 2

I know a lot of this will sound like “woe is me,” but really, that’s not the point. First of all, it’s got a nice happy ending. Second of all, I want to show that although the journey may be difficult, it’s entirely doable — and by the way, try not to make the same mistakes I did!

Also, please do feel free to comment and share your own story. We’re all in this together.

On to the next bit of college.

One of the goals that I had my freshman year was to get involved in more extracurricular activities. During high school, I did the theatre thing, and that was it. I sat at home bored a lot. So at a minimum, I should get into this theatre thing again, right? I found out that auditions would be held for several plays. Clearly I needed to get in on this.

What I of course didn’t realize is that theatre at a university wasn’t just another extracurricular activity. Oh no. It was a major. This was supposed to be taken a lot more seriously. I just kind of showed up, unprepared, and tried to find out what I should be doing. There were a few short pieces available for reading. For whatever stupid reason, I chose one from Shakespeare.

Now, did I think I was going to stutter during this? Of course. But the mentality was No Regrets! I had done some theatre-esque public speaking in high school! I can do this! I need to do this! Even if they don’t give me a part, I can say I tried. And who knows, I might be able to meet some people.

So I get up in front of the directors and professors with this piece in hand. It’s dark. They’re sitting, staring, very serious. I don’t have to introduce myself, so bonus there.

They asked me a few quick questions, and I responded — without stuttering. I was loose! I was happy! This was going to be great! No pressure!

Then I started reading from this piece. (I was probably supposed to memorize and “perform” it.) Also, I can’t say that I completely understood what bit of Shakespeare I was reading.

Total disaster.

I could barely get the piece out, sweated a lot and then ran out of there. No Regrets! Oh well, let’s move on to the next thing, whatever that may be.

I thought I had screwed the entire thing up, so of course I didn’t follow up at all. The only people who saw this awful stuttering were those professors who I’d probably never see again. Minimal amount of damage done.

By this time I had joined the student newspaper (story to follow soon) and while I was up in the offices a few days later, one of the writers told me that I had gotten a callback. He was involved in the theatre.

What? How was that even possible? I ran over to check the list. Sure enough my name was on there. Twice. The first call back had already gone, but there was still another.

I went to that one. Maybe they need a tree in one of their plays to say a few words?

The director was interested in how I was able to freely talk before the audition but then got all gummed up as I spoke the piece. But more importantly, he said how these plays will take a lot of time, and they’re really meant for students who are pursuing this as a major. I told him I wasn’t planning on majoring in this.

Probably should have talked to someone and figured that bit out before auditioning.

Powerpoints and Children

I wanted to expand some more on the links that I posted yesterday. We’ll start with this one from Stuttering Student:

(When I say I want to discuss a link further, it may be only somewhat related. If the author mentioned a few points, I may only pick one. Or I may ignore the main point and just expand on something smaller they said.)

He says:

Sometimes my fluency tricks will help, mostly they don’t, however, because one of the biggest fluency tricks I use is word substitution, and you can’t really get away with that when reading from printed text.

I know what I end up doing sometimes when I have to read printed text is gloss over it, maybe mumble a bit, and then try to find some more points that are important. This happens a lot at work during meetings when there’s a Powerpoint. I don’t like reading the slides, and I hate it when people do the same. So when I do my own presentations, I put only a few words and then “fill in the blanks” orally during the meeting. I’ll say something like, “so, then, you see, there, in point 1, you can see it … (pause) … and the second point is also important.” Let them do the reading! Sometimes during conference calls I’ve got to present a safety topic. This has to be e-mailed out before. Whenever I have to do these, I always skim over them during the call (again, they can do the reading! I’ve e-mailed it to you!). But during those readings I almost always stutter. But at least I’m only spending about 30 seconds stammering over 2-3 points than 5 minutes struggling through 20 items. I really try hard to prepare for these — confidence usually helps on the phone for me. Fortunately on the calls they can’t see me, so I can write things down on the paper I’m reading from — like “breathe!” — and other easier-to-say talking points.

In the next sentence Stuttering Student writes:

Other times I will just force myself to read because I think it’s helpful and healthy to face ones fears.

I’m a pretty voracious reader, but until we had kids, none of it was out loud. I never practiced reading in front of a mirror or anything like that.

These days I read out loud almost daily. Sure it’s only The Cat in the Hat and other easy children’s books, but it feels great. I can really control my voice, getting louder and softer, faster or slower. I can breathe. My children love it, and it builds a little confidence for me to use later in the day or the week. It even surprises me how fluent I can be considering not only how much I am thinking about fluency while I read, but the words themselves — d-words, k-words, w-words — those kinds of hard consonants always get me while talking.

Also: You’ll notice on this blog that I was talking about my life until high school and then stopped. Fear not. I shall continue in a few days with the college adventures. There’s probably a week’s worth of posts just talking about the transition to college.

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.

Conference Calls

When I first got an office a few years ago, I was pretty stoked. Now, finally, I could be annoyed at my speech alone while on the phone instead of wondering what the person in the next cubicle thought. Since the job had more responsibilities, I inevitably had to participate in more conference calls.

This is when I found out something that was really and truly messed up about my speech.

Here’s what I’d do.

I’d dial into the call and have to say my name. Obviously this was painful. But I’d try to dial in a minute early so that I’d be the first person on. That way I was only stuttering in front of the host. Once I got past that, I’d put the phone on mute and wait for others to join. I found that when the phone was on mute, I could say my name easily without stuttering. I then turned off the mute. I could feel the tension and the stutter, and knew I wouldn’t be able to say my name. Mute back on. Easily say my name. Mute off, potential stutter for sure. This was crazy.

The easiest calls were ones where I was just a participant. Then I’d just have to sit and listen and occasionally contribute something that I had prepared and was confident to speak on. The worst are the ones where I’m the host. Then as people join, I have to go through a roll call … and end up stuttering on a few names. What made that even worse was if someone was in the room with me … ugh. Maybe they could just do the roll call? No? Fine.

Another pain with conference calls are going to a meeting room with a bunch of participants and having someone join over the phone. Then they ask to go around the room for introductions. Not only do I have to say my name without stuttering (never happens) but loudly enough so the person on the phone hears it. Then while I’m stuttering out my name, the person on the phone is confused about the delay and possible dropped signal. So of course they ask to repeat. And of course that never turns out well. Because then there’s this awkward silence as I try to regroup and then go through the motions again.

Inevitably I’ll also be on calls where people don’t recognize my voice. So even if I introduce myself at the beginning, they’ll forget. Then when I start talking, they’ll ask who I am. An ambush introduction. These are the worst since everybody sees this as such as easy question — so give me a quick answer. Simply, who are you?

Karma

I think this week I’ll go back through some quick elementary school stories of stuttering. There’s not as much to say about these since those days are pretty vague. Also, it’s important to date this — times before the Internet and easy information. So it’s something like 1985-6 for first grade …

When I was a teenager and stuttering all the time, I wondered a lot what was causing this. I thought it might be something physical — maybe landing on my back or front all those times playing football in the backyard with my brother. Then, since we were being brought up to believe in God, maybe it was something bad I had done a long time ago that I was being punished for? What exactly could that be?

Ah, that’s right. First grade. During first grade, all of the students had the opportunity to read a story book to the kindergarten class. All you had to do was sign your name up on a list, and then you’d be the person for that week. Well, not being on top of things, of course I forgot about signing up. And the end of the year was coming. If I added my name to the bottom of the list now, I wouldn’t have the chance to read to them. But I really, really wanted to read to those kindergartners! (No idea why). So I simply went up to the list, erased someone else’s name, and put mine on there. (yes, I’m a terrible person) Done! And a few weeks later, I was reading to the little kiddies. I don’t remember stuttering at all in first grade, by the way.

Clearly that must have been the cause of the stuttering! Not only were you devious about signing up, but it was a verbal activity! And now your oral prowess would be compromised for life.

Obviously that wasn’t it, but this is the kind of thing that runs through your young mind when you have nowhere to turn.

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