I started stuttering suddenly at the age of four. My mother took me to speech therapy in Manhattan with Dr. Jacques Penn who engaged me in discussions about scientific method and atheism, made me say ta-tay-tee-toe-too and rewarded me with pens until I became too mature for them. He taught me if I must stutter to stutter with dignity. Perhaps from his therapy, perhaps from natural maturation my stuttering subsided considerably in the fifth grade, only to flare up again briefly when I went to a new school in the seventh grade.
Stuttering is an involuntary spasm of the vocal cords; it manifests as hesitations (he-e-e-esitations) repetitions (re-re-re-repitions) and blocks (SILENCE SILENCE SILENCE SILENCE
Even though I don’t stutter any more the experience has given me an intimate awareness of how the rhythms of so-called voluntary, conscious life are always vulnerable to interruption, from forces that whether they be imagined as deep resources of the self or outside demons, are unconscious. Anything I try to say can be interrupted; fluency is an achievement or a lucky happenstance; and perceiving the importance of fluency and rhythm can just as easily take them further from reach, as searching for a floater in the visual field will make it merrily run away.
I also learned that my emotions, without my being aware of them, could paralyze my action, and I would have to do a post-mortem autopsy of the tiniest failure to realize the fear and anxiety that a micro-second ago drygulched it.
Stuttering has given me an appreciation of how the will, consciousness, and freedom are not instantaneous possessions but commitments over the long-haul; how the most intimate, precious possessions of the self are a star to guide our actions by, not a baby already in the crib of our every moment. The simplest thing in the world — speaking — saying ‘I love you” or “Let’s be friends” –could be snatched from me without a why.
I still try to talk but I’m aware that an arhtyhmia lurks between my thoughts, and if they achieve a rhythm that’s by threading a needle’s eye against a background of hesitating, blocking, and repeating.
Or maybe the rhythm is just a pleasing combination of hesitating, blocking and repeating!
Whichever it is, I love you. Let’s be friends.