Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Famous People Who Stutter

f There was an article I read at a sports website that mentioned famous athletes who stutter. I knew a few of the names: such as former Celtic and current television announcer Bill Walton, videogame demigod Bo Jackson, Denver Nugget forward/asshole Kenyon Martin, San Diego Charger running back Darren Sproles--but two jumped off the list that I never imagined: the exiled Johnny Damon and greatest golfer of all-time Tiger Woods.

(side note: Johnny Damon is not a backstabber or a traitor. He took the money just like any of us would have. So let it go.) Anyway...

Johnny D surprised me, but after reading that article and hearing more about how his stuttering held him back when he was in the minor leagues and was afraid of talking to the media only to seek therapy and gain self-confidence as he rose to the majors with Kansas City, it makes more sense. As I hear him speak in interviews I can tell that he is picking and choosing his words. People often think that Damon sounds like an moron while speaking to the media, but from my perspective and experience it really just seems like he is avoiding words he thinks he will have trouble on. And I don't blame him. I can't imagine having to go through that every night after a game or during a live press conference. I've come a long way, but not that far. Luckily for me, unless my 40-yard-dash time mysteriously drops under 4.5 seconds, I won't have to.

Tiger Woods, on the other hand, I REALLY had no idea. He was quoted in the article as saying something along the lines of "I stuttered when I was younger so I went to a special school where they taught me to speak the right way." If only it was that easy for all of us. I'm guessing that Big Tig had normal childhood dysfluencies that many children have and simply grew out of it with the help of early intervention, but who knows.

As people who stutter, we are often told about famous actors, athletes, politicians, and historical figures who have dealt with stuttering problems themselves in an attempt to inspire us to work past it and become successful, meaningful contributors to society. Names off the top of my head include Walton, Winston Churchill, Jack Welch, Charles Darwin, Moses, James Earl Jones, and to a much, much lesser extent, Stuttering John from The Howard Stern Show. I have been trying to think how these celebrities and quasi-celebrities have really gotten over the fear of speaking and how they conquer their stuttering in such a high-profile career (granted, Stuttering John has made his career out of his stuttering, but that's not the point).

Last night at the NSA Stuttering Support Group meeting, Dr. Melnick, a stuttering SLP named Steve, and I had a discussion about these famous people who supposedly stutter and why we have never really heard them have any difficulty on television, in movies, or on the red carpet. Steve's theory was that they are always playing a character, not themselves. For example, almost any time I change my voice, whether I'm singing in the car, whispering, talking in an accent, yelling, or performing one of my abominable impressions of Stewie Griffin, my stuttering almost always goes away. I imagine "L-L-L-L-Luke I am y-y-y-your f-f-f-ather" would not be in the pantheon of memorable movie lines if Jones stuttered all the way through it. The same goes for Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts, Samual L. Jackson, and any other stuttering actor.

If anything, I think the lesson to learn from these famous people who stutter is that stuttering is no excuse to not follow your dreams. The way to transcend stuttering is to find something in your life that means more to you than the way you speak. I know that I chose my career based on my stuttering, and while I know it will be rewarding in the long run I often wonder what it would be like if I had chosen something else, particularly sports management. Considering my favorite days of the year are in order: 1) the NFL Draft weekend 2) the NBA Draft 3) the NBA trade deadline 4) the MLB trade deadline and 5) the day free agency starts in any sport, sports management should have been a perfect fit for me. While at UMass I thought about getting into it but I thought that if I stuttered I wouldn't be able to make phone calls to teams trying to get rid of Brian Scalabrine's absurd contract, negotiate with Drew Rosenhaus, or just generally project the confidence I would need to be successful in that kind of job. In hindsight I sometimes wish I had gone down that path. At least when I am working as an SLP somewhere in a couple years I can encourage young kids to follow their passion. Not to say I won't enjoy my career (though I've already had my fill of graduate school), but potentially working for a professional sports team would be something special. I guess I'll just have to live vicariously through NBA Live 2006. With my New Orleans Hornets I just completed a blockbuster trade for Darko (see left; I figured people would recognize Damon, Tiger, and Vader, but Darko isn't any good so people don't know him.) Anyway, I'm turning Darko into a star, something Pistons GM Joe Dumars couldn't do, so maybe there is still hope for me afterall.

Monday, February 13, 2006

::Insert Relevant Song Title Here::

As I'm cruising iTunes I'm realizing I'm out of catchy song titles for these blogs...
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Back from a snowy weekend home, so I finally got my hands on my sister's digital camera (half of which I technically own). I also figured out the painfully tedious process of publishing photos on Blogger (I had to download 2 entire programs just to get it to work, completely unnecessary). In any case, here is a picture of the "Best Speaker" award I won last week at Toastmasters(and yes those are Christmas lights in the background. It's always Christmas at the Griffin house). I had to return it at today's meeting, but I came home with another, for "Best Table Topic," that looks exactly the same except the title is different. I was unexpectedly called to the podium today to talk about the Olympics and what I thought of when I saw the athletes accept their gold medals. I had no idea what to say, and blurted out some kind of I-wish-I-had-that-opportunity thing. I stuttered through something so completely incoherent with no real ending whatsoever, but I think I'm still at the stage where they think it's great that I'm even up there speaking in the first place, so they voted for me. I was also assigned the job of 'Um' Counter, so I listened to everyone speak and had to tally their "um"s and report at the end of the meeting. Some of these people are incredibly dynamic speakers. This one guy Anthony should have his own talk show or something, he's very good. He is the kind of speaker I wish I could be, and hopefully through enough practice at these meetings I will be in time. He's 40 and been doing this for years while I'm 23 and been to three Toastmasters meetings. I think I've got time.

During my meeting with Dr. Meyer last week, she told me she felt I wasn't able to really convey the message of my presentation because of my stuttering. She said my content and hand-out were good, but in conveying the ideas of my presentation (about hearing loss support groups), the stuttering was distracting. We need 4 out of 5 on our presentations as part of the program requirements, and she gave me a 3. I didn't even think it was that bad, but in hindsight it wasn't that good either. I have been writing about how most of the time I just want to speak and not really worry about stuttering, but situations like presentations and speeches are times where it is important that I am as fluent as possible, so by her reminding me of that, I think I will be forced to be better prepared. Granted, it didn't really help that I started presenting at 7:35 during a 4:30-7:30 class on a Thursday night when everyone was looking at the clock wanting to get the hell out of there, but nonetheless it could have gone better. I know what she meant and I didn't get defensive, but it still hurt a little bit because I'm not used to hearing it. Some times I feel that professors are actually too easy on me in terms of my presentation grades. Even Larrivee gave me a 23.5 out of 25 during our Artic presentations last semester, and there was no way I deserved that. Being patronized is worse than being made fun of, and it gets frustrating because I can't really defend myself. If someone makes fun of me I can at least send a "Fuck Off!" his or her way, but if someone is being extra-nice to me because they think I'm different or slow, it drives me nuts because I'm afraid of overreacting.

[On the superficial level, being patronized has it's advantages because in the short term it makes things easier, but in the end it just makes life harder down the road. When I was at UMass, I would go to the Mullins Center every morning for Dunkin' Donuts coffee (I singlehandedly kept that place in business). One day when I was trying to order I stuttered badly and the counter girl just ignored me and went on to the next person. I stopped taking that personally a long time ago, but it's still pretty damn aggravating. There was an old woman who worked there who saw what happened and yelled at the girl and demanded that she take my order. I felt kind of embarrassed, but I got free coffee for a week that the old woman had ready for me when I walked in. Now, free coffee is a good thing, even though she became a co-dependent for my $3 per day habit, but it still makes me feel like I'm being treated like a lesser person. A few Oh-it's-okay-honey-I'll-take-care-of-it's might seem like I'm being helped, but I'm not a child. I'm a grown-ass man...well, not quite, but I'm getting there.]

If anything, I think Dr. Meyer's comments were a wakeup call to prepare myself for situations where my fluency is just as important as the content of what I am talking about. A few months ago I wrote about how I found it difficult to find motivation to practice speaking because I spend so much time by myself with few important speaking situations. With another presentation for her class on Thursday and with plenty of time and a little added pressure, I'm going to put more effort it and I expect the presentation to go well. She said if I do well on this one she will forget about the 3 on the first one. That should be motivation enough right there.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Toastmasters, Part Deux

Quick update. Consider this the "More Cowbell" section of my blog.

Just got back from Marlboro. I gave my speech to the Toastmasters meeting today, and, as I guaranteed, won Best Speaker. Unfortunately, I get to keep the trophy for a week, then return it on Monday because they just recycle the same one every time. I think I'm going to parade it around Massachusetts like it was the Red Sox World Series Trophy. I did however, receive a ribbon congratulating me on a job well done for my first speech which is now on my bulletin board next to the picture of the Drink-O Board. Everyone seemed to like my speech. I talked about growing up stuttering and how I'm working to overcome it. I feel lucky that for any type of medium where I'm introducing myself and giving background, be it a speech or a personal statement for applying to college, I have a prepackaged topic ready to go. It was evaluated well and I was given criticism about how to improve it for next time, namely speaking louder and using more gestures. I think overall I did very well considering I wrote most of it this morning. For whatever reason, I have the ability to be honest and candid every time I speak or write (which is why, for better or worse, my blogs have always been so personal. I don't know any other way to be, it just seems fake if I don't tell the truth). People are usually drawn to me because of that, and I think it's a good thing. It shows that almost no matter what, I'm not trying to bullshit anyone.

On a conflicting note, Dr. Meyer emailed me today saying that she was concerned about my presentation last week in Aural Rehab, writing that we should "brainstorm ways to make it easier for [me] next time." I am not quite sure what she means, because I think I did a decent job with eye contact, projecting my voice, and getting all my points across. I stuttered a few times, but nothing that really took anything away from the presentation. I was the last person to speak and the class time was already up by the time I got up there, so I felt a little rushed. We'll talk on Wednesday to see what she means. I don't want to get all defensive on her and release the hounds, but I just won a goddamn trophy proving my skills as an orator are at least adequate. Unless she gives me some trophy or plaque that says "You Suck", I don't think she has a point.

I didn't get the score right (who does), but my Steelers pick was correct. I didn't think the game was any good. Was it me, or was that the most anticlimactic Superbowl in years? After it was over, the place seemed silent. Even though the crowd was 75% Steelers fans, it was dead in there. That's what you get for having two boring teams play the biggest game of the year in a boring city.


Saturday, February 04, 2006

Toastmasters, NSA, and The Superbowl

This past week I finally accomplished a couple of goals that I'd been planning for months: attending a Toastmasters meeting and an NSA Stuttering Support Group meeting. It took me a while to finally get myself to go, but both were worth it.

Toastmasters, as I've explained before, is a public speaking organization. When I arrived at the meeting in Marlboro, I found out it was entirely comprised of middle-aged 3Com employees (a company I didn't think existed anymore, but maybe I was just thinking of the ballpark). I felt out of place but everyone in the group was very friendly and welcoming. Everyone seemed like seasoned public speakers, making eye contact and speaking with emotion even when discussing basic chapter functions. During a typical Toastmasters meeting, there are introductions, 2 people who give speeches based on the manual (you need to make 10 successful speeches before you are an official "Competent Toastmaster"), two people evaluate the speakers, one person times the speeches to make sure they are in the required range, an "Um" counter, and a section called Table Topics where people give 2-minute impromptu speeches based on topics given to them by another member. At the end of the meeting, speakers and the various jobs are chosen for the next meeting, and a vote is taken for the best speaker (the winner receiving a little glass trophy). During my first meeting, I didn't actually say anything, but I did volunteer to be a Speaker during the next meeting this Monday (something that drew Oohs and Ahhs from people who might not have expected me to be so forward immediately). As corny as it might be, I can never turn down a chance for a trophy. I think winning an award based on my speaking prowess would be pretty ironic. I'm writing a 5-minute speech about my background, my stuttering, and why I've chosen my field. It might not be the Heisman, (God, I wish it was the Heisman) but I think I have what it takes to win this week. I'm the Reggie Bush of public speaking. If anybody is in a corporate setting and needs to give presentations, I highly suggest Toastmasters, as there is probably a chapter near you, wherever you are. These people are serious about their public speaking, so if you want that promotion, Mr. Fancy Suit & Tie, go to www.toastmasters.org and find a meeting.

Second item on the agenda last Monday was the local NSA Stuttering Support Group meeting at Worcester State. Last semester my Monday class with Dr. Wicka really cramped my style and I never had the time or motivation to go, but this semester I am free those nights. Run by Dr. Melnick, the NSA meeting was very similar to the ones I had attended at UMass, but fewer people attended (four people total including myself and Dr. Melnick). We still talked about our stuttering and addressed some common topics. I was hoping for more people and hopefully next month there will be, but it was still nice to go and I feel like I'm getting involved again. Always a good feeling.

So that's what's been going on. I'll give my speech on Monday and I'll update everyone on how that goes (something tells me I'll need to buy some trophy-cleaner). My Superbowl pick is Pittsburgh to win outright, 31-17, over Seattle. As much as I want Seattle to win, Pittsburgh is a team of destiny: winning three on the road, Jerome Bettis, and Big Ben's cool under pressure. I don't like Seattle, but once the Patriots win again next year, people will forget about Seattle just like they forgot about Tampa Bay in 2003. In any case, if the Pats can't win it this year, at least Indy won't either. We can thank the Steelers for that.

Till next week.