Merry International Stuttering Awareness Day (aka ISAD, aka worst. acronym. ever) to you my stutter buddy! Last year I posted a Q&A about stuttering in this humble little blog, but this year I thought I’d get our awareness on by bringing on one of my stuttering homies (stuttering is disproportionately homey rather than homette heavy, if you read my Q&A). So let’s get this thing started with a softball question. We go back about a decade, have shared rooms at StutterCons, have frequented many a rogue stuttering support group meeting, and have played stuttering chicken with many a bartender. First question: what does ISAD mean to you? Second question: dude, we’re old.
Ten years, wow. Seems…much longer. I dunno that ISAD “means” anything to me necessarily, it’s not like I put up banners and have a parade. But I guess it does represent a pretty significant shift in my thinking; in that I’ll use it as an opportunity to acknowledge that I stutter and educate people about it, which is something that I never used to do. Especially growing up, stuttering was something I tried to hide as much as possible. It was a very negative thing, a source of a lot of shame and frustration. And it still can be to a certain extent. I mean, I don’t think anyone *enjoys* having major blocks in front of a waitress. Sometimes you just want to order your food without it being a huge ordeal. But for the most part, it’s gone from a really negative thing to at least a neutral thing. I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those people who sees stuttering as a positive, and those people certainly exist, but I think it’s a pretty good to have gotten it to neutral given where it was. I mean, yeah, I stutter, but I’m also left handed, marginally athletic, etc. It’s just one of many details about me. I guess ISAD serves as a reminder of how I used to look at it, and now I use it to bombard Facebook with information about stuttering. I’ll definitely be adding this to the list.
You don’t put up banners or wear your “kiss me I stutter” T-shirt? (note to self: create that T-shirt). As much as I hate to agree with you on anything, I’d say I feel about the same way about ISAD. My awareness raising normally consists of sharing things on facebook (like my Q&A, which I’m going to link to the third time here), and if ISAD happens to land on a weekend, demanding that my friends buy me drinks because it’s my day to be appreciated, dammit. I also demand they buy me drinks during Stuttering Awareness Week, which always results in them saying “Wait, didn’t I buy you drinks for a stuttering holiday a few months ago?” but after I accuse them of not appreciating stuttering, dammit, they normally cave. See, that was the Boy-Who-Cried-Wolf’s fatal flaw. He didn’t stutter.
That said, last year during Stuttering Awareness Week (#SAW2014) I gave a presentation at work “Everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask about sex stuttering” that people seemed to really enjoy. It was mainly an interpretive dance version of my Q&A (fourth time linking to this!) but I also added in some work-specific stuff that I got great feedback on. I was thinking about doing that again this year but I don’t want to be typecast. Plus I like to think my co-workers awareness is pretty damn raised thanks to that, so I wouldn’t know what else to add.
Don’t hate to agree with me, embrace it. It’ll save you time of being wrong. Hey-o. Major props though for doing a presentation at work. That’s awesome. My raising coworkers’ awareness about stuttering usually consists of an email and maybe a link to something I’ve written. To actually get up in front of people and talk about it is like Grand Master-level advertising. But you’re right, at a certain point I think people’s awareness has sufficiently been raised, and you don’t wanna be “that guy” who’s always talking about himself. I also don’t think a lot of people realize how big of a deal stuttering is to us. I imagine to most of your coworkers, it’s just “Ok, he stutters. So what?” They have no appreciation of what’s required to actually get up in front of people and talk about it. To bowdlerize a quote from Vice President and fellow stutterer Biden, that’s a big friggin’ deal. That’s something a lot of people who stutter wouldn’t do with a gun to their head.
And I guess that’s what I want people to understand about stuttering. For one thing, we’re totally fine. I once got stuck on the word “medium” when a waitress asked me how I wanted my burger cooked, and she got this wide-eyed look of terror on her face. When I finally got the word out, she says “Oh my God, are you ok?” I said “Yeah I’m fine, I just stutter,” and she replies “Oh thank God, I thought you were having a seizure or something.” To which my girlfriend rolled her eyes. But yeah, we’re not stupid, we’re not having seizures, we’re not nervous, we’re not [necessarily] lying, it’s just a neurological disconnect that prevents my actual spoken words from being as eloquent as they sound in my head. In my head I sound like William F. Buckley, Jr., but when I try to talk it comes out more like Brick Tamland putting mayonnaise in the toaster.
I also think it’s important for people to realize that there are a lot of things that fluent speakers (normies, as we call them) take for granted that are excruciatingly difficult for people who stutter. To this day, I react to the sound of a ringing phone the way most people would react to a live grenade being dropped in their lap. To most people, answering a phone is no big deal, but after a quarter century of awkward silence, the caller saying “Hello? Hello? Hello?” while I can’t make any sound at all, and being hung up on, I’ve developed a bit of an aversion to the phone. The worst thing a coworker can say to me is “Gimme a call when you get this.” I’m sure other people who stutter have similar hang-ups, whether it’s ordering at drive-thrus, asking for help at a store, speaking up in meetings, any number of things. And it’s almost entirely of our own making. By that I mean, the vast majority of people simply don’t care that we stutter. Like it’s not even on their radar. No one is going home at night and thinking “Man, that guy really stuttered his ass off today, that was hilarious.” But we’ve developed a very real fear of those situations thanks to years of unpleasant experiences. I guess that’s a pretty long-winded roundabout way of saying “If you know someone who stutters, cut them some slack.”
Dammit, once again I have to agree with most of what you said. Not all of it though. You know with my man crush on Joe Beezy I’d never utter a bad word about the greatest Veep in the history of time.
I will say you touched on what I will pretentiously call the “duality of the stutter.” By that I mean it’s both a big deal and not a big deal. It’s contradiction unto itself, like a sad clown, or a happy mime (seriously, they’re dead inside). Like you said, there’s a lot of little things that “normies” wouldn’t think twice about but we have those lingering “oh no!” thoughts running through our heads, even if you’re totally open and accepting about your stuttering (much, much larger topic). Then again, I’m sure there are things I completely take for granted other people don’t. I’m sure you can relate to this as an (almost) equally handsome gentleman, who has no issues taking our shirts off at the beach over here (bro high five!).
Then on the other side of this pretentious duality, while it may take a little more willpower or effort to do things where you might stutter instead of avoid them, if you do stutter, no biggie. In my presentation I had a slide with that Most Interesting Man in the World guy with the caption that said “I don’t always stutter… but when I do, it’s not a big deal.” Like you said, if I call customer service on the phone and get stuck on my name, I sincerely doubt they’re going to think twice about that after I hang up the phone and they have to deal with a barrage of other angry customers (f&*ing Comcast). I don’t want to say we make stuttering out to be a bigger deal than it really is because that ignores a lot of formative experiences (both positive and negative), but in my humble opinion people are pretty self-centered and focus on themselves more than anything. Case in point: I invited you to contribute to this blog and basically just skimmed what you wrote. Circle of life…
With all that said, any pithy closing thoughts? Stuff we didn’t touch on? Or stuttering joke to bring it on home?
I like that, “duality of the stutter.” But you’re right, even for people that are totally open and accepting of their stuttering, there must be times when it’s simply inconvenient. There’s that whole debate about “If there was a magic pill to cure your stuttering, would you take it?” I have to say that I would; not because I have grand designs on being president or a famous actor, but just because it can be exhausting and annoying. I’d like to be able to go into a restaurant and order whatever I want without having to worry about confusing the waitstaff. It’d be nice to be able to hear a phone ring without diving under my desk. I’d like to be able to participate in casual conversations without worrying about bringing them to a screeching halt with a major block. But that’s not the same as wishing I had never stuttered. Aside from some pretty awful times in middle school (which is awful, I’m sure, for most people) I can’t really say that stuttering has ruined my life. It’s certainly had an impact and made certain aspects of it more difficult, but it’s also led to some pretty cool experiences and allowed me to meet people I otherwise never would have. Good with the bad, etc. Plus, I’m pretty wary of the butterfly effect. I’ve seen movies; I know that even small changes to the past can have massive impacts on the future. For all I know, my fluent speech may have prevented the iPhone from being invented or something.
Sorry, that wasn’t pithy at all. But this was fun. We should have like an annual podcast or something that no one listens to.