Make Room For The Stuttering

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On the last night of improv class, one of my classmates came up to me to talk for a minute. She had a sheepish look on her face, as if she was wasn’t sure how I’d react to what she was about to say.

She said, “You know, how, like you stutter” and she had her hand cupped over her mouth as if she didn’t want anyone else to hear it. She went on to say, “I have a friend who stutters too and I really think you two should meet. She’ll be here tonight.” I said, “OK.”

Well, we got busy with the show and performing and all and before we knew it, the night was over and I was saying my goodbyes. My classmate mentioned that I hadn’t met her friend. I told her I had to get going, as I was driving my mom home. She said maybe another time then, as she was sure we’d hit it off.

I laughed to myself. How many times has this happened to you? That someone wants to introduce you to someone just because you both stutter. Like we’d be fast friends because we have stuttering in common.

Note to readers: just because two people stutter doesn’t mean they will be best friends. Just like with anyone else, you may not like each other, one might rub the other the wrong way or maybe one is a jerk, (not me of course!) despite being a person who stutters.

It is true that people who stutter definitely have something in common, but it doesn’t automatically mean they will hit it off and become best friends. I just think it’s funny that people automatically want to introduce me to someone else who stutters because they’re sure we’ll hit it off.

This has happened to me several times. What about you?

Last month, I wrote about how I had joined a beginners improv class. I was nervous and apprehensive at the beginning of the class, for several reasons. I had zero experience with improv and was afraid I’d make a fool of myself. And I worried about how my stuttering would play into it.

Well, last week I completed the class and actually performed with my group in front of a live audience, after just four weeks of learning and practicing. Guess what? It was fun and I really enjoyed it.

I had disclosed that I stutter in the first week of class, so got that out of the way quickly. Then I just went with the flow and let myself be creative and have fun with my classmates. My worry about making a fool of myself was unfounded because that’s exactly what you’re supposed to do in improv.

Here’s what I learned in improv. You  don’t have to be funny to do improv. You just have to be open to what a partner says and respond and build on what they’ve said. One of the rules of improv is “Yes, And.” This means to agree with your partner and add to what they’ve said, whether or not it makes contextual sense.

I also learned that I have the ability to be a deep listener, which is an essential tool of improv and of life. I think stuttering has taught me to be a great listener, because I used to always prefer listening to talking.

And I learned how to be more mindful and in the present moment, which is also helpful in all aspects of life. Being grounded means we can develop better relationships and we need that more than ever in today’s world.

The performance went great. Our group was called the “Slippery Alligator Udders.” We had a supportive audience who laughed and enjoyed our show. My initial nerves dissipated right away as I relaxed and leaned into the creativity and playfulness of our group.

I never thought I’d say this, but improv was good for me. it helped me get out of my head and enjoy something without worrying about stuttering. I’d recommend it for anyone looking to push out of their comfort zones.

I am looking forward to taking the 201 level class and seeing what I can create next.


Well, I took a big risk and joined an improv class. I had heard improv was a great way to get out of your comfort zone, practice being in the moment and have fun.

My first class was this week. I had googled a few articles on improv so had a general idea as to what it was, but really had no idea what to expect when I walked into the classroom. I was nervous and excited at the same time. I was nervous about looking foolish in front of others and about how to handle the fact I stutter.

It was important for me to find a way to let my classmates know that I stutter so they wouldn’t be surprised when they heard me stuttering.

We started out with doing some warm-up exercises to get to know each other. They were a combination of saying our names and doing a fun action. Before we knew it, everyone was laughing and seemed somewhat comfortable. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one who was nervous.

We then moved into learning some of the basics of improv, like establishing relationships and places so that onlookers can get a sense of the scene you’re creating. We worked on collaborating with each other, using the improv strategy of “Yes, and.” This strategy has us agreeing with what our partner gives us and adding to it, forging onward with what we are given. In other words, much of improv is going with the flow.

At one point, the teachers wanted all of us to get to know one another, as our selves, not characters we were creating. We paired up and just talked to each other, asking questions to get to learn about each other.

My partner asked me how my summer was and if I had done any thing fun. Here was my opening to talk about stuttering. I mentioned that I had gone to Atlanta for a conference and naturally she asked what type of conference.

I told her it was the annual NSA conference for people who stutter and that I stuttered. She went with the flow and said that was very interesting. Everyone was watching our “introduction piece” so I advertised it to the group as well. After that, I felt more comfortable letting my stuttering out and just going with the flow.

I am really looking forward to seeing how this class goes. I’ve been looking for something to challenge me since finishing with Toastmasters and this definitely will be a challenge. I’ve been worried about the fact that I am not naturally funny and I’ve read that I don’t have to try and be funny. I can just be natural and work with classmates and think in the moment and work as a team and funny will naturally happen. I’m hopeful that’s true.

Wish me luck. We do a performance in front of an audience at the end of the class, live on stage. I’ll really be stepping out of my comfort zone and hopefully having a blast!


Stuttering_Pride5-300x160Every year, the stuttering community celebrates International Stuttering Awareness Day on October 22. It’s a day for people across the world to recognize stuttering, educate others who don’t stutter and raise awareness of an often isolating difference.

For the last 12 years, the community has further celebrated by participating in a three week online conference about stuttering, hosted by the International Stuttering Association (ISA.) The conference is held from Oct 1-Oct.22 and can be found linked to the ISA site.

This year, the theme of the conference is stuttering pride. Yes, we can take pride in the fact that we stutter, that we’re part of a huge community that empowers each other and that can take responsibility for educating others about stuttering.

The conference needs to hear from you, people who stutter, loved ones of people who stutter and people generally interested in the stuttering community. The conference is seeking submissions of papers, audio or video around the theme of stuttering pride. Specific information can be found here at the ISAD section of the ISA site.

Won’t you consider writing something about your stuttering experience? Or sharing an audio or video message? It can go a long way towards the goal of educating others and creating a world that better understands stuttering.

Last week I had a wonderful opportunity to speak to kids who stutter at a stuttering camp. The director had invited me to meet with the kids, ages 8-12, via Skype. Before my talk, the kids explored this blog and my podcast and prepared some questions.

The goal of the week was to get the kids talking about stuttering, to gain confidence and to learn how to create their own podcast.

My chat with the kids was great. They asked about how I feel when I stutter, if I ever get nervous when talking in front of people and what I’ve done to get comfortable talking. We had a real back and forth conversation and we all learned from each other. The kids had never met an adult who stutters. I think they thought it was cool!

Later in the day, the director emailed me. The kids were asked to reflect on their day and several said my talk was a highlight. One kid drew a picture to illustrate what the room looked like when I was talking to them via the listening to Pam

Later in the week, the kids learned how to create a podcast and they did several, on all kinds of creative topics. They also presented on the last day to their parents and SLP students about facts on stuttering, what they learned during the week and what they’re thinking about for the new school year.

This was a unique opportunity for these children. They focused on talking and having fun and gaining skills and confidence. I was happy to have a small part in the week.

I just recently had the below post published as an article on The Mighty, which is a site that features stories about all kinds of disabilities and differences. I am pleased to have my writing featured on another site, as hopefully it will raise awareness about stuttering to people who don’t stutter. You can see the article here, titled “Why It’s Important To hear Other People Who Sound Like Me.”

For the longest time, I hated the sound of stuttering. I hated to hear myself stutter. I thought I sounded choppy and unnatural, and always imagined the bad things a listener was thinking about me. I hated to have to leave a voicemail, as I didn’t want someone to have a recording of me stuttering. And I hated to have to record my own outgoing voicemail message. I remember re-recording my voicemail message about 20 times until it was perfect, without one syllable of stuttered speech.

I did not want to hear other people who stuttered because it reminded me of me and how I sounded.

I hated to hear characters who stuttered in movies. I remember getting red-faced and cringing when I heard the stuttering lawyer in the movie “My Cousin Vinny.” The character seemed to be created to get a laugh and it was a demeaning and demoralizing role. I did not identify with this character, nor the characters in “Primal Fear” and “A Fish Called Wanda.”

But when the movie “The King’s Speech” came along in 2010, I felt a little differently. By then, I had come out of the covert closet and stuttering openly. I was OK with it. I was actually kind of proud to hear a main character in a movie who stuttered realistically and wasn’t solely there for comic relief. I could relate to the stuttering in this movie, even though it was a male (as have been most of the characters who stutter in movies).

Something was changing within me. I was reaching the point where I enjoyed the sounds of stuttering. In 2010, I started a podcast called “Women Who Stutter: Our Stories.” I created this to give women who stutter a place to share their story and hear other women who sound like them stuttering naturally and openly. I made it a goal to interview women from all over the world, and have so far spoken with women who stutter from 32 different countries.

I like hearing the stuttering with different accents. I like hearing the cadence of a woman’s voice that stutters. I like how I sound on the podcast – something I never believed would be possible. How could I like something I had so vehemently hated for such a long time?

I have heard from friends that have heard me on the podcasts that I have a “radio voice.” Me, who stutters, actually has a nice voice. They’ve said it’s easy to listen to, even with the stuttering.

I have heard from listeners to the podcast that many feel grateful to listen to other women who stutter because it helps them feel less isolated. Stuttering can be lonely, especially when you don’t know someone else in person who stutters. That was me until about 10 years ago. I had never met another person who sounded like me. I grew up thinking I was the only one who stuttered and spoke with broken speech.

I just recently returned from the annual conference of the National Stuttering Association, which was held in Atlanta in early July. There were over 800 people who stuttered at the conference, from all walks of life and different parts of the world. The event was a joint venture with the International Stuttering Association. During the day at workshops and at night in the hotel lobby, I heard so many stuttered voices blending together into a wonderful symphony of sounds. It was music to my ears.

Finally, I have realized I like the sound of stuttering. It reminds me of me, that I am not alone and together our voices are strong.

I have recently listened to podcasts (besides my own, who knew?) where people have suggested that we can have fun with our stuttering. Micheal Kidd-Gilchrist, a NBA basketball player with the Charlotte Hornets, was recently on a sports podcast where he talked about having fun with his stuttering.

And Chris Constantino, a host with the StutterTalk podcast recently talked about having fun with our stuttering and seeing if we could make stuttering a pleasurable experience.

I have thought of stuttering in terms of making it a positive rather than a negative – “I’m stuttering well today” – but have never really thought about how it can be fun or pleasurable. That takes re-framing from a negative to a positive to a whole new place. A place that many people may not be at in their journey with stuttering.

I brought this idea of having fun with stuttering up at a recent discussion on Stutter Social. It was met with mixed results. Some people were intrigued by the novelty of the concept, as it really is the opposite of what people think about stuttering. One person was willing to explore out loud what it’s like when he makes fun of his stuttering. He mentioned that when he reaches that point, that he can poke fun at his stuttering, then he might not really stutter anymore.

Several people indicated that they could not imagine at all having fun with stuttering. They mentioned the negativity they feel when they stutter and how they wind up feeling depressed during and after long periods of stuttering.

I have been more conscious lately of smiling when I am in a stuttered moment. Whether it be a string of repetitions or a block, I try to remember to smile while I am stuttering. That may not be the same as having fun with it, but it makes me feel better to smile during the moment and I’m pretty sure it helps the listener to remain comfortable and present until I finish.

I am going to challenge myself to play with my stuttering and see what happens when I think about how the repetitions feel as they roll off my tongue and what the sensation of the block feels like. I am far from feeling that getting stuck in a block can be pleasurable, but I get where Constantino is coming from. Anything that we produce – and we produce sounds and words – should be valued as ours, as creative, as something positive.

What do you think of this idea of having fun with your stuttering? What does it feel like when you block? Can you make that a pleasurable experience?

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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Same protection applies to the podcasts linked to this blog, "Women Who Stutter: Our Stories" and "He Stutters: She Asks Him." Please give credit to owner/author Pamela A Mertz 2016.