Blog by Vince Vawter

I'm going to share with you a half dozen or so ideas. If you embrace any one of them, your life will improve.

Why should you believe me?

I’m a 75-year-old person who stutters. I have made all the mistakes that are lining up to get in your way. In spite of my mistakes, I have had a wonderful life and, difficult as it might be for you to hear and for me to say, I’m not sure I would change a thing.

Know this first: You are in the deepest part of the mud now. Everything gets easier. You aren’t quite sure what’s happening. Your main concern is that you don’t talk like your friends. When I was your age, I stuck thumbtacks in my palm and got up to open windows when it was my turn to speak. I have done more silly things than you could ever imagine. Tomorrow gets easier.

I guarantee it.

The next thing you need to hear might be hard for you to understand, but it’s going to take away a lot of the pressure that you feel. Whether you grow up to be the next anchor for the network evening news or whether you operate a piece of heavy equipment for a living, you are going to be just fine. What am I saying? I’m saying it’s okay if you stutter. Stuttering is like the leaf that falls from the tree every autumn. There’s nothing wrong. In other words, you may stutter, but you cannot fail. Stuttering is not failing.

Have you ever heard something that you didn’t quite understand but somewhere down deep felt that it was true? Stuttering is what we do when we try not to stutter. I have heard that all my life, never really understanding it. What if we turned it around? If we stop trying not to stutter, we won’t stutter. Think about that. I do. Each and every day.

How many times have you heard someone say that “life is a journey”? Well, duh. Of course it is. In its own way, stuttering is a journey, but the one you take will be unlike anyone else’s.  You are unique. You probably have not gone on many trips by yourself but let me tell you that traveling alone is no fun. It’s always better to go with a companion, if only to help you understand the GPS correctly or catch the correct flight. Think of your SLP as your traveling companion. You can make the journey alone if you have no other options but having a good traveling companion along who knows a little bit about the route will make all the difference.

The older you get, the more you will hear about GOALS. There’s a goal for everything and perhaps that’s how it should be. If you are in speech therapy, you probably assume your goal is “fluency.” I’m going to ask you to think in a new way. Forget the goal of “fluency” and consider your goal to be that of finding your voice. My definition of fluency:  Saying anything I want to say, when I want to say it. Quality, clarity and adherence to social norms are more about diction, articulation, elocution, intonation, inflection and a whole bunch of other “tions.” Find the voice that is yours. Make that your goal.

Have you ever had this kind of thought: “Yeah, I might talk funny but I can throw a ball harder or turn cartwheels better than anybody in this entire school?” Play ball or turn flips because you enjoy it, but don’t do it to make up for your speech. Your stutter does not require compensation.

Similarly, don’t use your speech as a crutch to escape life. You didn’t get that C in math because you couldn’t stand up in front of the class and explain how you worked the problem. You just got a C in math. It’s as simple as that.

I spent far too much of my life searching for a magic pill to cure stuttering. Let me save you the trouble. The magic pill does not exist. If there was one, I would have found it.

In my early 20s, when I was shuffling around trying to find ways to prove my self-worth, I took a course in calligraphy and illumination. I reasoned that if people didn’t like the way I talked, then they would love my beautiful handwriting. I was compensating again instead of enjoying the art for what it was.

I worked hard at illuminating a long poem by Max Erhmann called Desiderata. The last lines are: And whatever your labors and aspirations in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams; it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Don’t bother writing that out in a beautiful hand. Live it.

Vince Vawter spent 40 years working in newspapers, beginning as a sportswriter and eventually becoming an editor and publisher. He took early retirement in order to write. His first novel – Paperboy – was awarded a Newbery Honor in 2014. He lives with his wife in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee.

From the Summer 2021 Magazine