Monday, November 7, 2011


It seems like every time I read the news there's an article about bullying.  I was never really bullied at school, but was definitely made fun of a handful of times because I stuttered.  And like it or not, those events have shaped who I've become.  So I thought I'd chime in on this bullying dilemma.

One of the sermons at church a few weeks ago was about forgiveness, and I immediately starting to think about how I could tie that into a blog post about stuttering. But then I thought:  Am I really ready to forgive the people who used to make fun of me in school?

And wow, I had no idea what kind of soul searching I would do over the next few weeks. It's easier said than done to forgive someone for something that you've been harboring in the back of your mind for years.  But it would be pretty hypocritical of me to advocate forgiving people in those situations when I couldn't bring myself to do it as well.  But at the time I found that I just couldn't do it.

Which is kind of ridiculous, in a way, because most of the incidents that I had in mind took place back when I was in middle school - which was about twenty years ago!  I mean, is it time to get over that, or what?!?

What I've found is that forgiveness is not just something that you decide to do one day.  You don't just wake up and say, "I think I'll forgive that guy for busting out laughing at me when I had a bad block in art class."

Forgiveness is a process.

And maybe it was a coincidence, but immediately after I started to ponder forgiving people for laughing at me, Facebook suggested a new friend to me - the guy who always delighted in laughing at me when I stuttered in class.  Just looking at his profile picture brought back some bad memories.

And this was my opportunity for forgiveness.

I thought a lot about that day in art class when this one kid busted out laughing at me when I had a bad block on my name.  Maybe this event is one of the reasons why I get so nervous when introducing myself in a meeting, or why my palms get sweaty when I know I have to make a phone call.  Nobody wants to be made fun of.

But I've come to the conclusion that it does no good for me to continue to harbor resentment at this guy for laughing at me all those years ago.  It's not worth being angry or ashamed at anymore.  That incident made me focus harder on improving myself and has given me more determination to not allow other people to make me feel anything that I don't want to feel.  I won't be ashamed of my stuttering just because someone laughs.  And even though introducing myself or talking on the phone can cause me anxiety, I don't shy away from it anymore.  I'm taking these things on head first.

So in a way, I should be thanking that guy.  I accepted the challenge of not being too scared to talk in public.  I refused to stop talking just because someone laughed at me.

And here's the real lesson about forgiveness that I learned over the past few weeks.  The real person that I needed to forgive was never the guy who laughed at me in art class.  It wasn't the telemarketer who laughed and imitated my stuttering while I was trying to explain to him that I wasn't interested in his product.  It wasn't the woman at the doctor's office who wasn't patient enough with me when I was trying to explain what I was there for.  The real person I needed to forgive was myself, because I have been blaming myself all these years for something that is out of my control.  If I hadn't been ashamed of myself then I wouldn't have let those people get under my skin.  It all starts with me.

I think I'm finally realizing something that maybe I've subconsciously known for a few years now:  you can't be bullied if you don't let yourself be bullied.  And so what if someone doesn't like me, or how I speak?  I used to think it was important that everybody like me, but now I think I'm more interested in just being the best person that I can be, and other people can take it or leave it.

I was always taught as a child that your real friends will stick by you, no matter what, and I've always found that to be true.  So thank you to all of my friends and family who have always been there for me.  And to everyone else?  You are forgiven!

Friday, September 30, 2011

My Fantasy Pick for the Week: Darren Sproles

It's Week 4 of the NFL season, so if you're a Saints or Chargers fan then you probably already know of Darren Sproles - the lightning fast, super-quick running back replacement for Reggie Bush.  He's probably on your fantasy team, and he's probably racking up the points.  (I have BenJarvis Green-Ellis, aka the Law Firm.  Anyone want to trade???)

But what you probably didn't know is that Darren Sproles stutters.

I love writing about people who inspire me, especially if they just so happen to stutter as well.  Sproles definitely fits in this category, and now that he's a Saint, well... that's just icing on the cake!

I learned that Sproles stuttered a few years ago when he was the Stuttering Foundation's spokesperson.  He's now featured (in his Chargers uniform) on the Famous People Who Stutter brochure provided by the Stuttering Foundation.

So Darren Sproles is now on my fantasy radar this week and every week here on out - even on the Saints bye week.  I mean, why not?  The guy's a winner.  Any person that stutters who's not afraid to get up in front of cameras during a live national TV broadcast at the end of a game and talk is a hero in my book.  And I know that Sproles is going to have a lot of opportunities to do just that, as I have a feeling that he'll be the MVP of a few games going forward.

Good luck, Sproles!  Keep up the good work, on and off the field.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Coming Back Stronger

I'm currently reading Coming Back Stronger by Drew Brees. I wanted to read it because I'm a New Orleans Saints fan and because I love Drew Brees... and after having read the first few chapters about overcoming adversity and how adversity makes you stronger, I'm having a hard time putting it down!

One of the things that Brees mentions is that he has a birthmark on his face, and that he used to get asked about it a lot, picked on, etc. I've even noticed it, and have always wondered what it was. He mentions that his friends and family don't even notice it anymore, that it's not a big deal to them, and that they just accept it as being a part of him. That made me think of some of my family and friends who don't seem to notice my stutter, and how my stutter bothers me more than it does them.

Isn't family great?!

So you may be wondering, what's the big deal? It's just a birthmark, right? Right. I'm not trying to insinuate that Brees wrote Coming Back Stronger because he has a birthmark on his face. That would be kind of ridiculous. The book is mostly about Brees' life after tearing up his shoulder in the NFL, when the doctors thought he wouldn't be able to play again. But the birthmark analogy stuck with me, only because his birthmark made him noticeably different.

I think about it like this: For someone who stutters, that "birthmark" is only noticed when we speak, and otherwise, it's hidden. For Brees, his birthmark is always visible, and he gets questioned about it a lot. It's like a wheelchair, a scar, a burn, etc. It's something that he got teased because of as a kid, but instead of all that making him sad or angry, it made him tougher.

And here's the kicker... he had the choice to remove it, and he decided to keep it. He could have had a surgery and never been teased about it again. And that made me think:

If there was a drug or a surgery that could cure your stuttering, would you take it? I don't know if I would. So far I've stayed away from all of the drugs, the ear pieces, etc. I know some people who have tried various things, and they've worked for a while but then they start stuttering again. I'm glad that people are trying new ways to try to improve their speech, but I just don't know if I would do anything unless I knew it would completely work.

But what I do know is that if I had the chance to time travel into the past and make myself 100% fluent, I wouldn't do it. I don't think I would be the person that I am today if I didn't stutter. My stuttering has made me a stronger person. (Plus, I read a lot of science fiction and think that the world would be completely different if I went back in time and changed anything! I don't need the fate of humanity on my shoulders!)

But if one of my kids stutters, and if there ever is a cure... I would want my kid to get it. I think that's a parental instinct. I like to think that I would give them the choice of whether or not to get it, but I'd definitely encourage it.

Anyway, if you're looking for a great read and also want to gain some insight about how to make your stuttering into a positive experience in your life, I recommend Coming Back Stronger by Drew Brees. I'm not finished with it yet, but I'm already inspired.

Who Dat!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Interview Tip: Don't Hide Your Stutter

Here's a tip for anyone out there who stutters and who is about to interview for a job:

Don't hide your stutter.

When I interviewed for my current job five years ago, as well as for the job before that four years prior, I didn't hide my stuttering. That's not to say that I didn't try to speak fluently - I did! But I also talked about my stuttering with my interviewers, who also went on to become my bosses.

For a person who stutters, speaking perfectly fluent in an interview is a huge accomplishment. But to me, if you are perfectly fluent and never bring up your stutter, then you may actually be selling yourself short.

The thing is, you may really want to work somewhere because the pay is good, the work is interesting, it's a cool place to work, etc. But for me, I always also wanted to work where people wanted me to be there. It wasn't just about finding the right amount of money - it was about finding the right family. You'll be spending at least eight hours a day with the people you work with, so you'll be much happier if you get along with them.

It would be a lie to say that everyone at work is completely comfortable with my stutter. I hate to hear myself talk or watch myself on video, so I'm sure there are people that I work with who don't particularly like it as well. That's OK. But your manager should at least be comfortable with it. And if you have a good manager, he or she will vouch for you if you need some extra muscle behind you.

I actually do interviews now, so the tables are turned. And what I've noticed is that everyone has something that requires a little patience on my part. One person we interviewed years ago was an extremely slow talker. Some people have thick accents that are hard to understand, especially on a phone interview. Some people are blessed with perfectly fluent speech, but talk about the most boring subjects.

I had a good talk this week with the guy who hired me for my current position. He and I had spoken about my stuttering during the interview and have spoken about it since then, but he told me that after our initial interview he went back to his team and told them that he met a guy who stuttered, that it required a little extra effort to understand what I was saying sometimes, but that he could tell that I was a really sharp guy.

It would have been easy for him to write me off due to my stuttering. But he didn't. He chose to listen, even though it took more effort. Quite frankly, those are the kinds of people that you want to work for and work with. Those are the people who you want to become your mentors. I'm very grateful for the opportunity to work with people like that, and have learned a lot from working with my current team.

So... if you are going on an interview soon, don't worry too much about your stutter. You will find someplace to work that accepts you for who you are, who will foster your personal and professional development, and who will reap the benefits of having you as a part of their team.

Good luck!

Monday, May 9, 2011

May is Better Hearing and Speech Month

May is "Better Hearing and Speech Month." That's right, we get our own month!

My brother is secretly jealous.

My family has already done our part for Better Hearing and Speech Month: my son recently got tubes in his ears. It's obvious that the tubes have already helped him, as he's talking a lot more. Hopefully he's hearing a lot better as well.

We recently learned that some children who can't hear might develop bad speech habits - which might ultimately lead to stuttering. I guess I knew that, but hadn't really thought about it in terms of my son needing tubes. With a genetic predisposition to stuttering, hopefully the tubes will allow my son to sidestep having a stutter.

I also put The King's Speech on my Netflix queue. I can't wait to see it again, and I'll probably buy it at some point. I read on a few of the other blogs about stuttering that I read that Colin Firth is having a hard time shaking his stutter. That's interesting. Some of my friends used to complain about their own stuttering after hanging out with me for a long period of time.

We're contagious!

I'm glad that there's a month devoted to educating people on speech and hearing issues. I think very often about how lucky I am to be alive at this particular time in history. If I had been born in a previous century, I might have been placed in a mental institution or been forced to speak with rocks in my mouth as a form of therapy. Instead, I had two caring and encouraging parents, two gifted speech therapists, great friends who never made me feel out of place, a wonderful family, and a great job.

And with the Stuttering Foundation, the King's Speech, the writers and actors who stutter, and all of my fellow bloggers putting the word out, hopefully our children will live in an even more accepting world.

Here's to May, and better hearing and speech!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My Disney Lesson

My wife and I just got back from Disney, and we came away with not only magical memories but also some pretty good life lessons. Disney has a way of always fitting a moral into the story.

On our last day at the parks, we spent a few hours in the World Showcase at Epcot. When we passed through the England area, we stopped so my daughter could take a picture with Mary Poppins. I waited to take my daughter's picture while my wife and daughter waited in line.

A Disney employee (who are called "cast members") was nearby, and this particular cast member looked like he had an issue with his neck - like maybe part of it was missing or sunken. He was slightly hunched over, too. He seemed like a nice enough guy, but I basically tried to distance myself from him.

While I'm actively avoiding this person, he notices my LSU hat and asks if I went to LSU or am just a fan. Turns out, he's also from Baton Rouge. Not only that, but he grew up blocks away from where my wife grew up.

It's a small world after all!

This guy's name was Mike, and he was probably the single nicest person that I met on my trip. I asked him about how he started working for Disney, where he grew up in Baton Rouge, how to go about getting a software job at Disney... all kinds of things. He was a really nice, interesting person. And quite frankly, I'm ashamed at myself for originally avoiding him.

If there's anything that Disney teaches us, it's that there's something deeper inside of us that makes us special. I'd like to thank Mike at Disney for reminding me about that. I routinely ask, if only implicitly, that people at least give me a chance to speak and to judge me by the contents of my words and not on how I say them. Yet in this case, I judged this person before even giving him a second thought.

It's good to be humbled every now and then. It reminds me that, even though my stuttering is annoying and frustrating, I'm not the center of the universe, and other people are going through similar and sometimes much worse afflictions.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sleep Cycles

Since we just adjusted our clocks for Daylight Savings time, I thought this would be as good a time as any to write about how my sleep cycle affects my speech.

I've noticed that I'll stay at a consistent fluency level if I get a consistent amount of sleep. It doesn't matter how much sleep I get - 6 hours, 8 hours, 10 hours - as long as I get the same amount of sleep for several days in a row then my speech is usually at a constant fluency rate, good or bad.

But if I go from sleeping 6 hours a night for two weeks, then get 10 hours of sleep, you'd think that would be a good thing, right?

Wrong. My speech will be terrible that next day. It might get better during the day, but usually it takes a few days of getting 10 hours of sleep for my brain to adjust to my circadian rhythm.

If I'm not happy with my fluency rate or my concentration, then I usually start going to bed earlier or later.

My speech also degrades as the day goes on. If I'm having a great morning, then by late afternoon I'm usually struggling. Maybe it's just a lack of concentration. Or maybe it's my body's way of saying that I need more sleep.

Does anyone else have similar experiences?

Monday, March 7, 2011

My Honda Commercial

One of my coworkers and I were going to lunch one day at a place called Walk On's in Baton Rouge, when out of nowhere appears a guy with a camera, a girl with a microphone, and another girl with a clipboard. It turns out that they were with a car dealership in Baton Rouge called Richard's Honda. They asked us if we had Hondas (which we do) and if we'd say something nice about Richard's Honda. So we did.

Here's the video. I'm the second person being interviewed, talking about how much easier it is to take the family on a trip in the van than it was to pack up our old car.

(Click here if you can't see the embedded video above.)

It was a lot of fun being interviewed. The girl who interviewed me was really great. I told her that I stuttered just so she'd know, and she told me that I could say whatever I wanted, that they'd edit out anything that I wanted them to take out or that they couldn't use, and that she wouldn't ask me leading questions if I didn't want her to. Pretty cool.

My speech wasn't perfect. I stuttered on the word "Odyssey" and a few others. I didn't really control my secondary characteristics when I did it - my eyes fluttered, etc. But I thought I did pretty well.

So thanks, Richard's Honda, for not only selling great cars, but for giving me a chance to practice my speech in public!

Monday, February 28, 2011

My Pike Place Experience

My friend and I went to a conference on Microsoft's campus up in Washington last August when we decided to go to downtown Seattle one night. As soon as we parked the car, a man came up to us and asked us for money.

Truth be told, I was a little annoyed. I made some small talk with the guy to try to stall, and although I thought I had been perfectly fluent, he surprised me by saying, "You know, I have a son that stutters."

Well, that got my attention!

Before he said that, I had written this guy off completely. I was barely paying attention to him or to what I was even saying, because I was ashamed of the whole situation. I was ahamed that somebody would be homeless, ashamed that he would ask for money, and was ashamed that although I had the means to give him plenty, that I would only plan on giving him a dollar or more - and only to get away from him.

But suddenly, I wasn't just talking to some guy trying to get money out of me. I was talking to a person.

So we started talking. He asked me about my family, and I told him. I asked about his. He had a son who's a computer programmer. I said I was a computer programmer. He thought that was interesting - like maybe people who stutter try to compensate for not being able to talk fluently by taking up a job where the main task doesn't involve talking.

Pretty astute, for a guy bumming money off the side of the road.

I learned some more about this guy, who I think was named Rufus. (My friend and I didn't agree on what his name was - I thought Rufus, he thought something that didn't sound anything like Rufus. But since this is my blog, I get to be right!)

Rufus had Lupus, which is a disease where the immune system can't tell the difference between good cells and bad cells, and basically just attacks everything. I worked with a guy at my last job who had Lupus, and so I realized that what this guy was faced with was pretty tough. Rufus had a job, but didn't have health insurance, and he needed to buy some creams for his skin to help with some of the blemishes caused by his Lupus.

So I gave him some money. Much more than I normally would have.

When Rufus left, I realized that I had probably done to him what others have done to me. I had completely written him off at first glance. I had formed an opinion of him before I had a chance to know him.

I'm not suggesting that you stop and have a long chat with every person who asks you for money. But maybe there's a person at work or in school that you haven't given much thought or time to. Now's as good a time as ever to introduce yourself to that person and get to know him or her. You never know what you'll find!

The World-Wide Stuttering Support Group

My parents saved an article for me about a group of people who meet every month as part of a stuttering support group on LSU's campus. I think I might go check it out one day. It would be great to meet and interact with other people who stutter.

The Internet's kind of like a big stuttering support group for me. Take, for instance, the other bloggers out there who write about stuttering, like Tony Pearson of The Stuttering Student. Reading Tony's blog actually inspired me to create my own blog back in January. Thank you, Tony, for being an inspiration! It was really great to have someone writing positive things for once about stuttering, and I hope that I can add to the positive vibe out there on cyberspace.

Dhruva Kathuria started his own blog about stuttering, has just joined Toastmasters, and plans on writing about his experiences with Toastmasters on his blog. I've thought about joining Toastmasters, or even just giving a presentation at the local .NET User Group meetings - but haven't built up the courage yet. So I'm really looking forward to reading about Dhruva's experiences.

There are a lot of great blogs and articles out there on stuttering, and with the big wins at the Oscars for The King's Speech, I'm hoping that more people start adding in their own two cents.

If I've ever sounded negative on this blog, it's been unintentional. My goal is to just portray my feelings and experiences as honestly as possible. But what I'd like other people to get from this blog is that, despite the tough times and the people who don't (or don't want to) understand, you can be successful in life in spite of your stuttering. I hope that my blog gets this message across, as I know that Tony's and Dhruva's are doing so.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Academy Award Winner, Bobby Tanory

(Full disclosure, I'm cheating on this blog. I'm copying the contents of my other blog - The Tanory Tantrum - about the King's Speech.)

When David Seidler accepted the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for the King's Speech, he said that he shares the award with all of the other stutterers in the world.

Therefore, I hereby accept the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. You may now refer to me as "Academy Award Winner, Bobby Tanory", "Bobby Tanory, Academy Award Winner", or "Sir Robert of the Order of the Stuttering Federation of America and Beyond." Your choice.

In accepting this award, I'd first like to thank David Seidler for sharing it. Second, I'd like to thank my family, who have always encouraged me to go above and beyond. Third, I'd like to thank my friends for accepting me as I am. Next, I'd like to thank my speech therapists, Mrs. Pam and Mrs. Sheran. Thank you also to the royal family for letting this story be told.

And last but not least, I'd like to thank my wife, Betty, for always listening. This one's for you!

Even though Betty and my dad tied as winners of our family's Oscar Award throw-down, I'm the only one who came away with an Academy Award. I think I'll use my new Oscar money to take them (and my mom, who came in last - but not by much) out to dinner one night.

What's that? I don't get any prize money for accepting David Seidler's Academy Award? In that case, maybe my dad can take us out for dinner one night. It's Betty's birthday week, after all!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Secondary Characteristics

Something in the King's Speech really hit home with me. There's a line in the movie about how the King doesn't stutter when he's talking to himself. And if he doesn't stutter when he's by himself, then maybe his stuttering isn't permanent.

I generally don't stutter when I'm talking to myself, which is nearly all the time. But introducing myself, answering the phone or making a phone call, and going through the drive thru - basically anything that involves talking to someone other than friends and family - are all things that cause anxiety for me. Even saying Thank You can be challenging.

When I feel confident, I feel like I can say anything I want for as long as I want. Which means Anxiety is the enemy!

And anxiety, for me at least, results in secondary characteristics. I have a lot of secondary characteristics - otherwise known as "Bad Habits." I don't just do them when I'm anxious, but I think they each start when I'm anxious. I'm very aware of them, and it makes me angry with myself that I don't control them better, but I thought that writing about them may help me to face them, and eventually eradicate them.

When I was a kid I had a few bad habits, like clicking my tongue, clinching my fists, and blinking a lot or blinking hard. But the worst was Looking Up. I'd look up at the ceiling for no reason whatsoever. Sometimes it even strained my eye muscles. Occasionally I'd turn my entire head. I hated it, everyone else hated it, but I just couldn't help it.

My parents helped me get over my Looking Up. My dad held his hand up in front of my face and asked me to focus on it as he slowly waved it from side to side. I thought it would never end! My need to Look Up was very powerful at that moment. But it was a great experience for me - my dad showed me that I can control it if I wanted to, if I have the willpower to do so. He made me realize that he didn't make me look at his hand waving... I did.

And from then on, I didn't look up nearly as often. The bad thing, of course, is that I just adopted other bad habits over time.

but my parents can't always be there to help me expel my demons. So before I got my current job, I told my parents that I thought I needed to go back to speech therapy. I knew that I needed help. I needed help not just for my speech, but also for my secondary characteristics.

The first step is admitting you have a problem.

My parents supported me in it, as they always do. (If I haven't said that I have the best parents ever, then let me say it now: I have the best, most loving parents any person could ever ask for! Thank you, parental units!)

And the first thing I told my speech therapist was that my secondary characteristics were consuming me from the inside and out. I hated that I was doing them, and I knew it was obvious to everyone else what I was doing, but I felt like I had no control over them. I felt like a drug addict, who knew he was doing something that was killing him, but couldn't stop himself from doing so.

And her answer was so hopeful! She said, "Oh, getting rid of those is easy! That'll be the first thing we do. Once those are gone, the rest of it is a piece of cake!"

And she was right! When I'm relaxed, breathing right, focused - and confident - my speech is definitely better. And what those secondary characteristics, those bad habits, do is get me tense, make me lose my focus, and most importantly, strip my confidence.

As you've probably guessed, I'm writing about secondary characteristics / bad habits this week because it's time to get rid of mine again. My homework assignment this week is to go ten minutes without doing one of mine. Maybe if I can do a couple of spurts in ten minute increments, I'll eventually string some of those together and go a day without doing any of my bad habits.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The King's Speech

My wife, Betty, and I went to see The King's Speech last night. We both really enjoyed it, and I left the theater in a very emotional state.

The King's Speech is about how King George VI of England rises to the throne, deals with his stuttering, and overcomes his fear of public speaking to give a radio address to the nation at the brink of World War II - with the help of an unorthodox speech therapist.

The King's Speech has been nominated for several Golden Globes, BAFTAs and Oscars, and it definitely lived up to all of its hype. Colin Firth was fantastic as King George. The few characters that have stuttered in movies usually do it so over the top or their stammering is limited to repetitions, but Firth had it all down pat - the repetitions, the blocking, the secondary characteristics, and mostly the anger at not being able to get something out. I saw so much of myself in his character that sometimes it was painful (but cathartic) for me to watch.

Geoffrey Rush was brilliant as King George VI's speech therapist, Lionel Logue. Watching him interact with King George brought back a lot of good memories about my own therapy. Betty and I had a good chat about some of the techniques used to help the king, like relaxation and breathing exercises, saying nursery rhymes, and loosening up the muscles in the jaw.

But my favorite character - and the one that I haven't really seen or heard of anyone talking about - is King George's wife, Elizabeth, played by Helena Bonham Carter. She was so supportive of her husband throughout his struggles. She sought out therapists for him, encouraged him, loved him, and - so rare for a person who stutters - actually listened to him. She reminded me so much of my own wife, and it made me happy that King George VI and I have more than just stuttering in common - we also both have wonderful spouses.

It's very rare that we stutterers have someone who truly listens to us. On a daily basis I'm plagued by miscommunication and with people who don't have the patience to just wait for what I have to say.

I remember when Betty and I were looking for a new van for the family, and the salesperson helping us finished off all of my sentences for me - and usually finished them off incorrectly, making the search for a new vehicle more frustrating than normal. I remember arguing with my computer science teachers, who were usually foreign and had a hard enough time understanding English as a second language, much less understanding me when I spoke. I remember when a coworker was astounded that stuttering could be genetic, as he thought it was due to my mom not paying enough attention to me. And I remember when a boss once told me that my speech makes other people feel uncomfortable, and that I should just not talk in meetings. (The same boss didn't like long emails, but I think I communicate the clearest over email. Go figure.)

I'd like to say thank you to the cast and crew of The King's Speech for giving us stutterers a voice. I also want to thank my parents and family, my friends, my speech therapists and my wife for always being patient with me and hearing what I have to say, and not necessarily how I say it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My Favorite Celebrity Who Stutters

I like to read about famous people who stutter to learn how they challenged themselves.

For instance, Bruce Willis stuttered up through high school, where he overcame his stuttering while performing in the drama club. Here's a guy who has a lot of trouble just speaking in class, but has the cajones to get up in front of his school during a drama production. Pretty awesome.

And I like reading about how Marilyn Monroe stuttered, mainly because I like looking at pictures of Marilyn Monroe. But if anyone asks, it's because I'm learning about her stutter. Her sexy, sexy stutter.

But over time, I've decided that my favorite celebrity who stutters is James Earl Jones. I hold Mr. Jones in such high regard because, even though he stutters - and he stuttered so badly as a child that he barely spoke for several years - he's got one of the most recognizable voice OF ALL TIME.

His most famous role in my opinion is that of Darth Vader (whom I now lovingly dub the Evil Imperial Warlord of Stuttering). But when you take into consideration that James Earl Jones has done other great voice over work, like as Mufasa in the Lion King, you realize that a stutterer is making a great name for himself doing VOICE WORK.

Let me repeat that (pun intended): A stutterer is famous for his voice work!

I love it!

So Mr. Jones, you are my favorite celebrity who stutters. I know you won't ever read this, but if you do, thank you for your inspiration.

And in case James Earl Jones does not read this but Bruce Willis does, then Bruce - you're my new favorite!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

You Got Served

I remember being in speech therapy as a young adult. Occasionally I'd have some homework, something like "call a store or restaurant and ask what time they close." The goal of these therapy sessions was to reduce the fear of using the phone. (And probably also to actually find out what time the store closed.)

Using the phone is tricky. When you're talking to a person face-to-face, you can get away with some of the blocking and stammering by using hand gestures. Body language accounts for a lot of the actual discussion. But on the flip side, when you're using the phone, nobody can see the secondary characteristics of stuttering - the other person can't see the clinched eyes, the mouth in the shape of the sound you're trying to make, etc. But you're depending on your speech.

Some other days I'd go to mall or somewhere similar with my therapist, and she'd give me an assignment. It would be something like: Go ask that person where the Gap is. Or go ask the person at the coffee counter what the special of the day is. The goal wasn't to speak with a 100% fluency rate; the goal was just to get the result.

I bring this up because I recently read some other blogs where people who stutter said they've basically taken jobs that don't require them to speak, for fear of having to talk (and stutter) in front of other people. I guess this is common. But to that I say: hogwash!

When I was a freshman in college, I had a job as a waiter at Bennigan's for the summer. Being a waiter is probably not considered a job that generally makes people anxious or nervous, but when you stutter and have to introduce yourself to random strangers for 8 hours a day, the thought of it is a little harrowing.

But that's just the thing: being a waiter forced me to get up in front of people and speak. It forced me to introduced myself, which is one of the hardest things for me to do. And since my tips depended on me providing excellent service, it required me to not suck at it.

Stutterers have rent to pay, too, you know!

At first I was terrified. I only got the job because I had been a bus boy at Bennigan's the year before, and I knew the manager. But the thought of talking in front of so many people scared the living daylights out of me.

But it was great! Every table required its own little performance, and I had a lot of fun putting on a show. The speaking part could be challenging at times, but there were even more challenging tasks - like not spilling drinks on anybody while serving tables!

(I only spilled drinks on one person, but I spilled a drink on him on two separate occasions. On the bright side, he got a free meal out of it.)

I'm definitely not cured of my fear of introducing myself to strangers, but I'm a lot more confident in my ability to do so now that I've had the experience of introducing myself a thousand times. Which is the point of all the "What time do you close?" phone calls that my therapist had me do. Practice makes perfect, right?

Besides learning to not be so scared to death of talking in front of other people, I also learned some actual great lifelong tips. I learned of "Lombardi Time" - where if you're 15 minutes early then you're on time, and if you're on time then you're late. I also learned how to sing the Bennigan's birthday song, which I still sing to all of my fellow coworkers on their birthdays.

So for those of you who stutter, who feel like you need a job where you don't have to speak, I'll leave you with two thoughts:

1. Jobs that don't require speaking usually suck (unless you're writing or programming computers, in which case, rock on!); and

2. Your homework this week is to challenge yourself by speaking to people for no good reason whatsoever. Who cares if the special of the day is written on a blackboard sitting at the foot of the reservations desk? Ask the waiter anyway!

Who knows, your waiter might be more scared of talking to you than you are of him.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

School Days

I always loved being in school, but the first day at a new school was always very stressful for me.

I was always concerned with how would kids react to my speech. And I had questions that probably most kids have: Would I fit in? Would I make friends? Would I be popular?

I shouldn't have been so stressed out about these things, because I was always blessed with lots of great friends who never cared that I stuttered. And if I had a friend who wasn't a positive influence on me, then we weren't friends for very long.

By the time I was in high school I had developed a strategy for dealing with my stuttering: I introduced myself to my teachers after the first day of class, explained that I stuttered, and told them that there would be days when I would be having a lot of trouble speaking and would not raise my hand, but that didn't mean that I wasn't paying attention or didn't know the answer. That did several things for me: it got the whole stuttering issue out of the way, and also challenged myself to start a conversation - by introducing myself (one of the hardest things for me to do).

Of course, that didn't mean that I didn't have to answer questions on the spot. My teachers held me to a high standard, and expected me to hold myself to a high standard as well. I was required to participate, whether or not I felt like I was having a good day fluency-wise. That was a good life lesson, because at work, I don't get to pick what days I get to interact with other people. Talking is a required everyday occurrence!

And I bring this all up because my life pretty much changed one day in high school when I introduced myself to my 9th grade science teacher, Mrs. Gatz. I had pulled Mrs. Gatz aside to tell her that I stuttered, and she immediately asked me if I knew "Jordan." Apparently, everyone knew Jordan except for me. And apparently, Jordan stuttered.

Also, it just so happens that Jordan was the student body president.

Talk about lifting a burden from my shoulders! I no longer was anxious about how people would react to my stuttering, because I had just found out that we had a trail blazer at our school who stuttered, and to top it off he was the student body president.

I still remember the day when it was time for my entire freshman class to hear all the candidates for student office speak. We filled the cafeteria then listened to one person after the next get up and talk. One courageous girl even sang a song in front of the entire school. And then Jordan got up in front of the room and spoke. He told us why he wanted to run, what he would do if elected, and thanked us all for our time. And while he spoke, you could hear a pin drop. His speech was not 100% fluent, but he said everything that he wanted to say, and everyone listened intently. Once he was finished, the room erupted in cheers. And Jordan won in a landslide vote.

I will always remember that moment. Before that day, I didn't think I had the courage to get up in front of a large group of people and speak. But after, I felt like there was nothing I couldn't do.

Jordan and I ended up becoming good friends. He went to LSU, then went off to Harvard. HARVARD. His speech never held him back. He is a true inspiration in my life.

So I want to thank Jordan in my blog today. I want to tell him that he inspires me, and that his courage that day still impresses me.

I also want to challenge anyone who stutters - go do something this week / month / year that you have never been comfortable doing. Introduce yourself to a cute girl that you like, but have never had the courage to talk to. Interview for a better job that will greatly enhance your life. Run for office. Don't just do it for yourself. You never know who's in the crowd, and you never know how it will affect them.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Fear of Public Speaking

I talk a lot more than I would guess a person who stutters generally talks. I pretty much talk non-stop. (I sing non-stop, too, which I think annoys more people than my stuttering ever could!)

I love to talk, and don't mind talking with a lot of family, friends or coworkers all at once. But one thing I've never been very good at is talking in front of a group of strangers.

And as a person who stutters, it shouldn't come as a big surprise that I really don't enjoy the thought of getting up in front of crowds and speaking. But as it turns out, I'm not alone - almost everyone hates the thought of public speaking. There are countless books about how to overcome your fear of speaking in public, tons of websites out there devoted to it, and there's even the age-old adage of imagining the audience in their underwear - although if you ask me, that has a whole separate set of consequences associated with it. It seems like it would be much more embarrassing to be aroused up on stage than to stutter!

I guess it depends on the audience.

I'm thinking of all of this right now because I just got a magazine subscription offer in for Fortune Magazine, and it came with a little card that says, "3 Skills You Can Improve Right Now" and the the first skill shown is Public Speaking.

One of the things this little card says can help conquer your fear of Public Speaking is to make eye contact. I think that's good advice for conquering normal conversations, as well. I have a lot of secondary characteristics, as I'm sure many stutterers have, and one of them is that I blink a lot or clinch my eyes shut while trying to get a hard block out. Sometimes I just look up at nothing, which is what I'm assuming this little card is addressing. My therapists have always stressed eye contact, but it's nice to see that non-stutterers have to be reminded about this every once in a while as well.

Now, I don't know about you, but one thing that I'm really horrible at is remembering another person's name when I first introduce myself. I'm so concerned about getting my name out correctly that I usually miss what the other person is saying.

One of the other skills on this little card is Memory Skills. It says that to help remember the other person's name, introduce yourself first so that you can focus on the other person. Good advice - and not just for people who stutter.

I think people who stutter could actually be very good at public speaking, because to me, the general public's fear of Public Speaking seems very similar to the fear that a lot of us stutterers have about normal conversations. If we can nail down some of the techniques that our therapists have taught us, then what difference does it make if we're talking to one person or to thousands of people? The same skills are necessary.

My homework this week is to try to make better eye contact while speaking and to try to introduce myself before the other person (and hopefully remember the other person's name). I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

What's in a Name?

I chose the name Stutter Step for my blog for three reasons:

1. A stutter step is a technique used in sports for various reasons. As an avid soccer fan, the way that I see a stutter step used most often is when a soccer player goes to take a penalty kick. The goalie might lean one way when the kicker takes those tiny stutter steps, and that gives the kicker enough insight to know where to kick the ball.

2. I like the analogy of taking the next step in my life - preferably a step away from stuttering. And finally (and most importantly)...

3. The name "Stutter Steps" (with an "s" at the end) was taken.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

About Me

My dad was in the check-out line at a store a few months ago when he started chatting up the family in front of him. It's one of the traits that I admire the most about my dad - he can talk to anyone with ease.

My dad told me that the family's little boy turned to him and said, "I stutter, you know." To which my dad replied, "Oh really? I have a son that stutters."

The rest of the conversation is really heart-warming, and although it's best told by my dad (the master storyteller), I'll do my best to replicate it here.

The kid wanted to know what my life was like. Did I have a family? Did I have a job? Was I happy? Was I cured? Could I speak fluently? Did people laugh at me? He looked up at my dad with these big eyes, hoping that he would tell him that everything was going to be OK.

My dad answered all of his questions, and I'll answer them as well:

Yes, I have a family. I have a wife of six years, a two year old girl and a seven month old boy.

As for my job, I'm a professional software developer at the largest home health agency in the nation. Not only that, but I'm a team lead, so not only do I help other developers and testers one-on-one, but I meet with the business users, take phone calls, give presentations, lead training seminars and pipe up on conference calls.

Am I happy? I have a great family and a great job. I live in a great city. What's not to be happy about?

Am I cured? No. I am not cured. I stutter every day. Every time I speak - or really, before I speak - I think about my speech. I have good days and bad days, and sometimes lots of bad days in a row. But the good days are great days.

Can I speak fluently? Sometimes. Speech therapy has helped me a great deal. I practice several techniques, including (but not limited to) passive airflow and relaxation exercises. I've found that getting rid of my secondary characteristics (twitching, clinching, blinking, etc) goes a long way towards speaking more fluently.

Do people laugh at me? Sometimes. But not usually, and not for very long. Nobody at work laughs at me - everyone is very patient and kind.

OK, so I've expanded on my dad's answers just a bit. My dad said that he didn't know if the kid would be disappointed to hear that my stuttering didn't go away. But instead of being disappointed, it seemed like a weight had been lifted off the kid's shoulders. It was like just hearing that he could have a normal, happy life made him feel better.

That little kid's reaction is one of the reasons why I started this blog. Maybe someone will read it and find some help or hope.

Or maybe they'll meet someone in the supermarket who tells them that it's OK to stutter.

Welcome to Stutter Step!

Hi, and welcome to Stutter Step!

My name is Bobby, and I stutter. I also blog, and thought it was time to combine these two activities, since each takes up so much of my time.

My main objective with this blog is to write candidly about my experiences as a person who stutters. I want to talk about my home life, my professional career, school, and I might even throw in some old memories of being in therapy. Who knows, we'll just go with it and see where we end up.

If you ever have a question or comment, feel free to leave a comment on any of my blog postings and I'll try to answer.

Just a note of warning: If I don't receive any comments, then I'll just talk about what I want to talk about. Which is great, because as a person who stutters, nothing makes me happier than just talking and talking and talking. Except talking to someone who's listening!