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I have to share this.

Three days ago I received an email out of the blue from someone I communicated with about stuttering quite a few years ago. We last chatted in 2012.

This is what she said (with just some minor edits)

I have a very important job interview this Thursday for a position that I really want. I have been considering being completely open and honest about my stutter during the  interview, something that I have never done before. I know you are a big advocate for being open about our stuttering, so I was hoping you could pass along some wisdom or advice. I am terrified. It’s a corporate position and while they state that inclusion and diversity is a part of their company values, I am so terrified of not getting this job because of my stutter.

I feel like I will be taking a gargantuan risk by letting my interviewer know about my stutter. I am also just simply terrified because I know how “badly” I stutter during high-stress events, and nothing could be more high-stress than this job interview. I would really appreciate any advice or words of encouragement you might offer.

Of course, I emailed her back and shared my thoughts. I asked her to let me know how the interview went.

I heard back from her today. The interview went well and she did disclose that she stutters right at the beginning. She said the interviewer wasn’t phased at all, which she found comforting. In fact, when she asked the interviewer if she had any questions about stuttering, she was a little bummed out that she didn’t because she was ready to be open and share.

I wished her luck on the second round of interviews and asked her to let me know how everything goes. I thanked her too for remembering me and reaching out.

She said she reached out to a couple of friends locally who stutter but also wanted to reach out to me. She said “you are very well known in the stuttering community.” I can’t tell you how good that made me feel.

You just never know. When we talk about our stuttering and share our stories and put ourselves out there, people listen and pay attention and remember.

And that makes a difference. And means a lot.

PamEpisode 196 features Yuka Fukuoka who hails from Tokyo, Japan and presently resides in NYC in the United States. Yuka is a professional designer by day and on weekends she works on app development to benefit people who stutter and increase awareness of stuttering for people who don’t.

Listen in to this great conversation and hear what Yuka is up to. While in Japan, she worked on a “wearable device” that allows fluent people to experience what it actually feels like to stutter. And here in the USA, she is developing a prototype app for people who stutter to practice speaking situations that also create anxiety for stutterers.

We talk about workplace stuttering, preparing for job interviews, whether to disclose stuttering or not, and using your stuttering as a strength. We also discuss the importance of changing mindsets about stuttering and breaking down biases.

Finally, we give a shout out to SMBC, a financial powerhouse with a location in NYC, who offered mock interviews to people who stutter. High level managers served as interviewers and talked about how helpful it was to openly talk about stuttering at work. Yuka attended this event and found it extremely helpful.

The music used in today’s episode is credited to ccMixter.

 

I have been reflecting a lot on the value of being authentic in all of my places. I have been reading and boning up on being courageous at work.

I came across this great Forbes article called The Importance of Being Courageously Vulnerable at Work. 

The author, Patrick Williams, a leadership coach, asks, “Is there a gap between who you say you are and how you reveal yourself in the world of work?”

We all have things we hide due to shame, embarrassment, guilt or even unexpressed dreams we may have given up on, and we often put those in our shadow. Williams challenges us to acknowledge and own your (shadow) or it will own you.

This really resonated with me. I try to be authentic at work, as I truly believe it invites others to do so as well and then stronger relationships are forged.

I have been actively involved in the National Stuttering Association for about 12 years now. I am proud to share that a workplace advocacy initiative that I’ve been championing for over a year has launched. We Stutter @ Work is ambitious, new and requires that people who stutter be willing to be open and stutter nakedly at work.

I do that. I stutter openly and nakedly at work. It’s OK. People are listening to what I say and not how I say it. Occasionally I might get unsupportive remarks or reactions when I stutter on the phone. I usually say something, like “Oh, I stutter. No biggie, right?” I don’t apologize. I used to, years ago. I never do today. There’s nothing to apologize for.

The workplace is no longer the 9 to 5 we used to view it as. It’s at least one-third of our daily life. We are “human beings”, not “human doings.” More of our “being” needs to be present in the workplace, and we should encourage others to do so as well. It makes workplaces better, stronger and helps people feel like they belong. Right?

What do you think? Have you had any experiences where you’ve been courageously vulnerable at work? How did it make you feel? Do you and can you stutter openly at work?

Lately I’ve given a lot of thought to all of the different places I stutter and the observations that I’ve had that I stutter differently in those places. I am sure this is not a novel thought but is one that I’ve noticed I’ve paid attention to more recently.

I stutter at work. But differently in the many roles I play. When I cover for the receptionist, I almost always stutter when I answer the phone. I always repeat a couple of times on the “R” that begins the name of my school. Sometimes that brings laughter from the caller and it really bothers me, even after all these years of being OK with stuttering.

In small group conversations with the office staff, I almost never stutter. In larger group meetings, I might stutter when called on spontaneously. When I go out to my district schools and deliver outreach presentations to large groups, I stutter, but variably. Not so much for the first one or two, but I observe much more noticeable stuttering towards the end of the day as I tire. Also, I stutter much more when reading from prepared notes or a script and much less when I am just speaking more conversationally.

I stutter at home on the phone. It doesn’t seem to matter much who I am speaking with. It happens and for the most part I am OK with it, probably because, unlike at work, the caller doesn’t laugh when I stutter.

I don’t seem to stutter much at family gatherings but I do tend to be more on the quiet side, so not as much opportunity for stuttering if I am not talking, right? That is a long ingrained habit from my childhood. I was always quiet because of the negative reactions I received from my father. I enjoy being social and chatty when with friends but still retain my quiet, reserved, guarded side when with family.

I stutter when with friends who stutter, comfortably and easily and probably even more so than when I’m at work. My guard is down when with friends who stutter as I have absolutely no fear of judgement.

What about you? What are the different places that you stutter? Have you observed this or paid attention? Do you have different feelings about your stuttering depending on where you are and who you are with.

I’m interested. Please share your thoughts.

I received a brief email today that completely surprised me and made my day. This made me grin from ear to ear and made my heart sing. I have not heard from this young woman in years. Feedback is a gift.

Hi Pam,

I hope this email finds you well!

I recently listened to the 2010 Women Who Stutter episode I was featured on and it was almost like an out of body experience to hear my 17-year-old self talk about stuttering and what was going on in my life at that point and even to hear the secondaries I had back then.

I wanted to reach out and say thank you so much for all the work you do with that podcast. It really is an inspiration to not only listen to episodes from other women and hear their journeys, but also to be able to get this glimpse into my past. Everyone has a story to share and I really enjoy the way you capture it.

 

The last day of the year offers an opportunity to reflect on where we have been and where we are going. It’s a chance to leave behind that which made us unhappy and focus on the good we can do and what will make us happy with all the new days we have coming with the new year.

If you have never thought of this in regards to your stuttering, I challenge you to do so. We have a whole new year, 365 days with which we can have a good relationship with our stuttering and pay that forward to others who stutter. Especially those who may not be far along on their own journey.

Quite a few years ago, I realized that I can use my stuttering for a purpose. I am comfortable enough with my own stuttering that I can share my experiences with others. I can show that stuttering does not have to define us and it can in fact be seen as the part of our whole that makes us unique and special.

For years, I did not believe that anything about me was unique and special. I hated myself and therefore had a very poor self-image. A lot of that was reinforced by messages that I had received, and not just about stuttering. Society just did not show much love to fat girls with bad skin who also talked funny.

But now I am at a point in my life where I am comfortable in my own skin and see those things about myself that make me special. It’s important now that I share that with others who might not be there yet.

A whole new year awaits for me to make a difference. I am excited with the opportunities that await to inspire change and make a difference for someone, or maybe more than just one person.

You can too. Find a way to get involved in the stuttering community. Share your story, help with a project with your local stuttering support group, dare to do something that you thought you couldn’t because of your stuttering. You can make a difference.

I had the opportunity to present about stuttering to a group of high school students specializing in neuroscience and all things associated with the brain. They are all so smart, far smarter than I ever remember myself being at their age.

The teacher has invited me to do this talk for several years and I am always up to the challenge. To keep a talk about a disorder that is limited to just a small percentage of the population interesting and engaging enough for young people is indeed a challenge.

But I did it and was just so amazed with their genuine interest and thoughtful questions. I spent about half the time sharing current research with them on stuttering and the brain and the other half of the time sharing personal stories that hopefully truly illustrated for them what stuttering really is and is not.

Today I got some feedback from each student. It really made my heart sing to read their comments and be left feeling that I really did help educate them on something that might stay with them for years to come.

Here are a few of the feedback pieces I am so proud to share here.

Thank you so much for coming and talking to us about the neuroscience of stuttering. I really enjoyed how your talk with us was so different than the other ones we have had. Nobody really talks about stuttering and the science behind it, so I thought it was really interesting. I never realized how low the statistics were of developing a stutter and not growing out of it. It really interested me how women are so much less common to stutter than men. I really wonder why. I really would like to say that the confidence you have when speaking is really something noticeable and powerful. The fact that you don’t care as much about what people think of you is really something important. Thank you so much again!

Thank you so much for coming and talking to us on Friday.  It was really interesting and illuminating to see stuttering from the perspective of someone who stutters and then to see the neuroscience behind it as well.  I never really thought of stuttering as being so stigmatized before, but after your talk, I realized how bad the media makes it seem. Now being aware of that will make me more able to communicate with someone with a stutter or even someone who has something similar.  The key to being able to better communicate with people from all different backgrounds starts with making an effort to understand those backgrounds and treating them as you would anyone else. Thanks again for taking the time talk to us.

Thank you so much – and I mean it – for coming in to talk about stuttering and the problems or lack thereof associated with it. I was able to relate with what you said even though I myself don’t have a stutter, and it’s nice to see someone so confident and well-spoken talk about something I relate to so much. Although the science was interesting as well, I will say just you talking about your experiences and how stuttering affects your everyday life was my favorite part of the rotation.

 

 

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I participated in the conference of a lifetime this weekend. I was so lucky to have been able to attend the 2018 ASHA National Convention held in Boston, MA. I was an invited speaker of the American Board of Fluency and Fluency Disorders along with good friend and guardian angel, Charley Adams, PhD, CCC-SLP from South Carolina. Together, we delivered a presentation called “Hidden in Plain Sight: Treatment for Covert Stuttering.”

We both felt it was extremely important that we talk to current and future SLPs about the importance of “treating the right thing” when it comes to working with people who covertly stutter. Because for covert stutterers, it’s not the possible stuttered word that is the problem. It is the complex layers of shame, guilt, paralysis, and fraudulent identity that must be peeled away and processed that is the the real problem and challenge.

Charley and I only had one hour to convey a whole lot of information to an audience mixed with eager, young graduate students and established clinicians and researchers in the field. We chose to tag team and alternate anecdotal story telling with clinical strategy suggestions. It worked. I must say we were engaging, funny and drove our points home.

I talked extensively about how covert stuttering robbed me of my personality and I knew it, but like the Stockholm Syndrome, I stayed in that bad place for thirty years. I shared details about “pretend Pam” and what it was like when “real Pam” finally emerged. At one point, I said something like, “real Pam stutters openly now with little shame and she’s a damn good communicator.”  At that, the audience rose to their feet and gave a standing ovation. I got choked up and felt my heart swell. It was such a proud moment.

I had doubt that I actually would be able to get to Boston and deliver my part of the presentation. I have not felt well for many weeks and I actually took a month of sick leave off from work, something I have never done. But getting to this convention was immensely important to me and I decided to be upfront, share my situation and ask for help. Charley was there for me, every step of the way, as were others.

The ASHA Convention was the largest I have ever attended. It was intimidating and overwhelming to be among so many people. It was reported that this convention had the most attendees ever – over 18, 000. With few exceptions, everyone was a professional in the fields of speech and hearing. Everyone had impressive letters after their names and I didn’t. But I’m indeed an expert on my stuttering and that’s one of the key messages that I really wanted to convey to the audience.

It’s important to listen and respect the lived experience of people who stutter and don’t assume that professionals have all the answers. It doesn’t always work that way.

warrior not worrierIt’s that time of year again and I find myself making tons of presentations to high school kids. Right at the beginning of the year, I start off with presentations on sexual harassment prevention to every student in our building, plus four remote sites.

So, I am doing about four 40 minute presentations a day that cover what sexual harassment is and isn’t and also discuss and explain tolerance and respect of differences to ensure we have a school environment free of bullying and discrimination.

It’s a lot to cover and not particularly easy topics to discuss with high school age kids. Talking about anything sexual gets major giggles going and red faces, but for the most part, they go well. It’s amazing – when I feel confident and on top of things, the talks go exquisitely. Everything just flows, I get the kids involved by asking questions and it generally becomes conversational, instead of me standing in front and “lecturing at them,” which I hate and I am sure the kids do even more.

I had an interesting conversation with my friend Annie about this just the other day. I confided in her that I always find this time of year, and these presentations, really stressful. They shouldn’t be at all – I am so good at these now after years of doing them that I can just talk and don’t really even need notes or cues.

But I always worry about what will happen when I stutter and someone notices and laughs. Annie wanted to know why I just didn’t relieve myself of that stress by simply starting off each presentation with a quick “disclaimer” that I stutter and get it out there. I’ve talked about this here before over the years. I never know if I should really do that because I’m afraid of drawing attention to me and away from the topic at hand. I’m not there to talk to the kids about stuttering and I always worry (quite obsessively) about how that will go over.

So I usually don’t disclose or advertise that I stutter at the beginning of my talks. I “hope” that I’ll be largely fluent and that it won’t come up and I won’t have to deal with it. Not the best plan, because then I need to be prepared for addressing reactions when I do have a big juicy block or long repetition in the middle of a sentence. When that happens, I figure I’ll deal with it then.

I would never take this approach with adults. I am totally comfortable letting adults know at the onset of a presentation that I stutter and that I’m OK with it and hope they will be too. But there’s just something about the kids that makes me feel more anxious about turning this talk around and making it about me.

So far, my first four talks yesterday went well – really well, in fact. The kids were super engaged, interacted, asked lots of questions and we had a good conversation in all four classes about current events, like the #MeToo movement.

Maybe I just worry too much.

PamEpisode 189 features Sigriour Thorlacius, or Sigga, who hails from Reykjavik, Iceland. Sigga is in her second season of being Chair of the Icelandic Stuttering Association and is only the second female to have this role since the beginning of the association in 1991.

Sigga is also a student and is particularly interested in public education and how we are raising our citizens. She has decided to focus in on Adult Education, as adults who return to school at non-traditional ages face stigma and pressures that are very parallel to that which people who stutter face.

This conversation was one of those where we had no clue we would wind up doing such a deep dive. We talked about self advocacy, unintentional authenticity, reacting to other people’s reactions to our speech and the energy drain we who stutter face when we are constantly thinking and listening to our inner head chatter.

We also talked about listening and how people who stutter actually get people who don’t stutter to listen closely to what we have to say.

Sigga also spoke about her experience at the recent Joint Congress in Japan and what participants have in store for the ISA World Congress being held in Iceland in 2019.

The music used in today’s episode is credited to BenSound.

 

 

In a recent Stutter Social hangout that I hosted, the group of five women and two men happened to have a very powerful conversation that turned into a really moving moment for me.

I decided to talk about that in a quick video because I honestly couldn’t find the right words to write. At the end of this hangout, it was crystal clear how important these connections really are.

I found myself crying during the hangout which I never do or have done and I noticed that several of the other women in the room were equally as moved. So I hope I explain it well here.

 

 

 

I was instrumental in getting these two videos made for the National Stuttering Association and figured, what the heck, let me share them here. They might help you. They might help employers. They might help a lot of people. So, go ahead and share.

And I’m actually in both of them. Which is kind of cool. So are my friends Katie and Derek. Even cooler. We were all willing to be completely vulnerable.

The first video is something really short you can use to educate your employer before you’re hired – during the job interview stage – and after you’re hired too, to help talk about stuttering at work. Because we know that can be a challenge.

The second video is also really short and to the point. We who stutter get really stressed about job interviews. Preparation can make all the difference. Do some research. You’d be surprised how many people go into a job interview and it’s obvious they know nothing about the company they hope will hire them. Do that research. Show you are interested.

And consider disclosing that you stutter. It will make it so much easier for you and the interviewer. You will feel more at ease and won’t be obsessively thinking what will happen when you stutter. By telling the interviewer upfront that you stutter, you remove that anxiety you have and let the listener know exactly what to expect. It just makes the speaking encounter so much easier and then you can be your cool, calm collected best self at the interview.

 

 

Two weeks ago, I had the amazing opportunity to help out with a “Mock Interview Day” for people who stutter at a globally recognized corporate office in New York City. For the second time, Goldman Sachs offered it’s employees an opportunity to spend a volunteer day helping people who stutter practice job interviews.

I helped an employee who stutters who works at Goldman coordinate participant registration, which was free and open to anyone who could come in person for two practice interview sessions. Goldman had 25 employee volunteers who would each interview two different individuals and provide that all important feedback.

Too often, when we interview for a job and don’t get an offer, we aren’t given any feedback. People who stutter then sometimes automatically conclude it must be because of stuttering. Of course, that might be true sometimes but other times it could be for any number of reasons: lack of experience or education or someone else is just genuinely a better fit.

One of the things we did to help the employee interviewers prepare for talking with people who stutter was we provided a “stuttering overview” session in the morning before the participants arrived. A SLP who stutters, the Goldman employee who stutters and myself  presented for a little over an hour on what stuttering is and isn’t, tips for listening, when or if to intervene if the person who stutters really struggles and we all offered a personal perspective on our own stuttering in the workplace experiences. Everybody was extremely engaged and asked thoughtful, important questions. We got a lot of very positive feedback about how helpful that was.

At the end of the day, when we were networking and eating pizza, someone came up to me and asked about whether I’d be interested or able to help provide similar training to his staff. We spoke for about 15 minutes. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a Goldman employee waiting patiently to speak with me. I tried hard to acknowledge him, but the person engaging with me wasn’t slowing down anytime soon.

Finally, the Goldman employee got to me. What he waited all that time to share with me blew my mind. He said, “you probably hear this all the time, but you are the most compelling speaker I have ever heard.” I felt my face flush and immediately felt embarrassed. He went on to say that he felt he was a crappy speaker and he was so impressed that I stuttered and still managed to make people want to hear what I had to say. He wanted to know my secret. Truly, I was speechless.

I thanked him and we talked for about a half hour and I encouraged him to check out Toastmasters. We have since communicated by email a few times and he told me has checked out the numerous Toastmaster options available in his area.

So why am I sharing this? I am not bragging, honest. I was embarrassed, but it resonated so I feel I needed to share. We who stutter can be and are amazingly effective communicators. When we remember that it’s not all about fluency but connecting with our listener and saying what we want to say, there’s a lesson here. Even fluent speakers get freaked out about public speaking. Our words count and that’s what people want to hear. We just need to remember that again and again.

 

when I stutterI recently had the privilege to see the documentary When I Stutter, a film by John Gomez. This is a film about people who stutter and portrays how people who stutter actually feel about stuttering, which is not always talked about. It is an honest examination of the sometimes dark side of stuttering, which often doesn’t get explored.

The film is currently making the rounds of private screenings and film festivals. It is being sponsored by colleges and universities that have communications disorders programs and being promoted by the National Stuttering Association.

It is a powerful learning experience for speech language pathologists and students studying to be future therapists. But it also demands and deserves to be seen by anyone who has an interest in the power of people who stutter daring to express themselves no matter how their voice might sound or how long it may take to speak.

That’s what hit home for me. The power of the voices. These are real people who stutter. Not actors portraying people who stutter, which is the sad norm when stuttering even gets a mention today. And we hear from both men and women and people of color, again an anomaly. So the film, by its intentional design, promotes diversity and inclusion.

Listening to the voices and seeing the facial expressions of people like me sharing their stories was visceral. Partly because I knew some of the people, especially the women, Rachel and Jenny, who have both been featured as guests on my podcast, Women Who Stutter: Our Stories.

So, knowing these people made it personal. Knowing the stories as my own made it real. Understanding the dynamics and complexity of stuttering made me nod my head in some parts. And tears welled up easily at other parts.

This is a must see film if you have any interest at all in the human condition. Even if you don’t stutter, you will identify with the shame, isolation and feelings of inadequacy that anyone with something that makes us stand out from everyone else can so easily relate to.

Kudos to John Gomez for bringing this film to light and to the stuttering community and the communities at large that we inhabit. We all have something that makes us different, stand out, unique. It is vital that we share our stories about whatever that is in as authentic a voice as possible. And “When I Stutter” accomplishes this, with grace and respect and actually honors the people who dared to be real with us.

Go see this film. It’s important.

 

I promised two weeks ago that I would offer a short summary of a few of the powerful, especially meaningful workshops that I attended just for myself at the recent National Stuttering Association conference in Chicago. I say “just for myself” because as usual I did find myself busy at the conference helping lead a few workshops and helping with other things. It took me two weeks to write this because I’ve been busy and I needed time to process how wonderful some of these workshops were.

So it was important to me to attend a few sessions that I was just a participant and could enjoy the experience facilitated by others. One such workshop that I found profoundly important was “Writers Who Stutter” which was presented last year and again for the second time this year. I couldn’t attend last year because of a schedule conflict so I was excited and intrigued to see what they might offer.

“They” were people who stutter who all happen to be women and immensely enjoy writing. In fact, they started a “writers who stutter” Facebook group within the last year and encourage others to participate and share some of their pieces with each other. These women – Elizabeth, Jaymie and Chani – all express themselves exquisitely in writing and in voice too. They have all been guests on my podcast and are great storytellers.

Since I didn’t get to attend last year, I wasn’t sure what to expect. And it was a 9:00am workshop, which honestly I choose to skip most of them in favor of squeezing in some needed rest,  which you don’t get much of at these conferences, so you take it when you can get it.

As preparation for this year’s version of the writer’s who stutter workshop, the facilitators offered a warm-up writing exercise through the Facebook group. They offered a “writing prompt” used from last year and asked participants to write a six word story about stuttering. I was thinking, “yeah, right, like that’s possible.”

But I thought about it and offered my thought to the group. “Stuttering is about me, not you.” The facilitators commented right away that they loved it and even asked permission to use it in some other way. So, I was hooked and knew I’d find time to go to that workshop in Chicago. Even if it was at 9:00am.

I’m so glad I did! Elizabeth, Jaymie and Chani talked about the important of our writing voice and how it becomes part of our identity. I could so completely relate with that. For years, because I stutter, I often found the only way I could express myself was through writing. I believed the voices in my head that said my voice wasn’t worthy of being heard.

But with writing, the words would flow, fluently and fluidly. I remember in the early days of this blog, I recall writing things but don’t recall the actual process of typing them. The words just sort of magically flew from my fingertips and often just appeared on the screen and I’d stare incredulously and wonder how did those words appear. And sometimes those pieces were my best writing and didn’t need any editing. It was amazing to me to see that unfold time and time again.

It still happens once in a while. Like right now, I am not thinking any thoughts as I type this, but somehow the words are coming together, so effortlessly and fluidly filling the page,.

And I think that was the point of the writers who stutter workshop, at least to me anyway. It may not have been the facilitator’s main premise at all. But my take-away was that we should respect the identity we create as writers and go ahead and let stuttering inform our stories and what we choose to write about. Stuttering experiences provide rich, compelling stories that belong to us, the community that stutters. And we need to have a space to do just that – write and create and share and get feedback and write some more.

This workshop gave attendees a chance to break into small groups and write a bit on a prompt that we were given to get us started. Then we could share within our group if we wanted. Or not. Maybe we just wanted to soak in the experience and keep our musings private. Then the last fifteen minutes or so of the workshop brought the smaller groups back together to share out and process as a whole and see the beauty of our creations, our identities and the power of our voices – both in writing and voiced out loud.

How lucky I was to attend that workshop. It reminded me how many of us who stutter have often gravitated to pen and paper to express ourselves. Because that often felt better, right and eloquent like we think we aren’t. But we’re wrong! We are eloquent both in writing and in voice. When the two collide and we’re given a space to explore that, great things happen.

Thank you Elizabeth, Jaymie and Chani for staying true to you and sustaining your group for a year and giving writers who stutter a place to realize our words are worthy, no matter which way we choose to express them.

I look forward to next year’s version of this workshop.


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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2020. 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 2020.
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