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.