|About the presenter: Paul Goldstein is a pianist-composer who has performed in Massachusetts, Chicago, and Norway, with many works on YouTube. His dozen years of graduate studies include speech-language pathology, and he has experienced both sides of the speech therapy table. In 2000, at the age of 46, Paul greatly expanded his "comfort zone" by moving across the Atlantic to marry Liv, a Norwegian woman he met on the Internet. Besides his musical activities, Paul works in social services for special-needs children.|
It was the spring of 2000, and I was sitting in front of my computer, profoundly worried. I was a 46-year-bachelor in Worcester, Massachusetts, struggling in my life with both maintaining fluency targets (when they "worked") and severe stuttering (when they didn't). These had been daunting challenges for decades, but now I faced a new challenge, one I had absolutely no experience with: For the first time in my life I was seriously thinking about marriage - and not only that, but contemplating a move across the ocean, to a new country (Norway), a new culture, and into a new language environment.
The prospect of a new life as a married man after 46 years of singlehood was a bit worrying to be sure, but also seemed like a novel exciting challenge. I felt no anxiety about moving into a new culture; intercultural life and activities had always appealed to me (I had lived at the International House of Chicago for about seven years as a grad student). But a new linguistic environment? That was a profound worry! I had problems enough just handling conversation in my own native language of English! How could I possibly handle fluency of speech and fluency of language at the same time?
I had met Liv through a stuttering-related website only about five weeks earlier. (Liv is in fact a fluent speaker of many languages, but has had a mysterious fascination with the disorder of stuttering since childhood.) I had always wondered if my stuttering would be a major hindrance to finding a lifemate, and 46 years of singlehood had seemed to confirm my suspicions. But here was something totally unexpected, that I never could have imagined - my stuttering not only wasn't a hindrance to meeting Liv, but had actually brought us together in the first place!
I mentioned my biggest concern to Liv - how could I possibly come into a new land and cope with a new language, when with my stuttering I was often having problems just coping in my own land, using my own native language?
Liv reassured me that this wouldn't be a problem. "First of all, most Norwegians between the ages of 10 and 60 can speak English. Secondly, I'm sure that within a few years, you will develop a perfect Norwegian stutter!"
During my earliest phone calls to Liv I used a Delayed Auditory Feedback [DAF] phone device to maximize my fluency. But Liv could tell that my speech expression didn't sound natural; my voice sounded mechanical and robotic to her. After a few phone calls, and hearing my speech with and without DAF, she told me, "Don't use your DAF speech with me. I want to hear your REAL voice!"
Indeed - she preferred to hear me stutter than to hear a fluency that sounded unnatural, artificial, and expressionless.
I didn't realize it at the time, but that was the beginning of a long and gradual process of my "letting go" - coming to terms with personal acceptance of stuttering, along with an inner calm and peaceful acknowledgement that I was a person who just happened to not speak fluently at times. Until then much of my life had been thoroughly bound up with speech therapy (especially fluency shaping) programs, formal practice of breathing and speech techniques, transferring, monitoring, intensive efforts to maintain fluency targets and fluent speech, trying as hard as I could to copy the speech of the normally fluent speakers around me, trying desperately not to appear "different". Sometimes I succeeded with these efforts, and sometimes not. There were times when I could consistently maintain fluency targets for days or weeks or months, while practicing and monitoring intensely each day. But at other times my speech completely fell apart to the point that I couldn't climb back into successful targets without an expensive professional refresher.
I had spent 25 years trying to use techniques of various fluency shaping programs (including 16 years of intensive involvement with Precision Fluency). To be honest, I was just getting tired of it all. The yo-yo nature of my alternating periods of excellent fluency and very struggled disfluency, my deep disappointments and frustrations with my inevitable speech "failures" (and undoubtedly some self-guilt at not successfully monitoring targets when I felt I was "supposed to"), a general dissatisfaction with having to take so much time out of my life with formal breathing and speech exercises to make my targets "work", and not being able to fully enjoy conversations due to the intensity of my monitoring, all contributed to a gradual decision to radically change my approach to the "problem" of stuttering: I started learning to "let go", to calmly accept the fact that I stutter at times, and to enjoy life to the fullest.
I began to question my perceived need to always be as fluent as possible, a need I had always taken for granted was a necessity for a successful and happy life. So what if I'm not fluent? Everyone has personal strengths as well as areas in which they are not as skilled. We are all different as human beings, and our goodness as human beings has nothing whatsoever to do with our skills at maintaining consistency of fluency of speech.
Anyways, back to my story:
Life-transforming events continued to unfold with remarkable rapidity. A few months after my first non-DAF phone calls with Liv, she flew to the U.S. to meet me in person. Exactly one week later we were engaged.
After spending most of the summer together in New England, I moved to Norway on Sept. 12, 2000. Ten days later, I ended my 46-year bachelorhood in a civil ceremony at Bergen City Hall. It was exactly eight months after Liv and I had first established regular contact with each other.
Before I had left the U.S., John Ahlbach (former executive director of the National Stuttering Project) told me, "You're lucky! You're moving to the quietest nation on earth!"
Indeed. Norway in many ways is an ideal location for people who stutter. People are quiet and unassuming; there is no arbitrary pressure to speak; there is no awkwardness in silence.
There is no small talk; there is no big talk.
One famous satirical book on Norway even has a chapter entitled, "Norwegian Conversations - Do They Exist?"
I was first introduced to Norway's relative quiet at our wedding ceremony. In contrast to wedding ceremonies of other countries and cultures, there is only one word that a groom or bride needs to say. This is the full text of the Norwegian wedding vows, which both the bride and groom must say: "Ja." [pronounced "ya"]
There is indeed quiet in the land. And when one does speak, there is no expectation that one has to conform to a particular way of speaking. In this land where small communities developed in relative isolation from one another, separated by mountains, fjords, and expanses of wilderness, hundreds of dialects abound. They can be so varied in pronunciation, vocabulary, and even grammar, that two different written Norwegian languages are necessary to accommodate them all. English, Swedish, and Danish are also part of the country's rich linguistic mix. The profusion of dialects and languages means quite simply that there is no single standard or expected way of speaking in Norway. There is no pressure for people who stutter to conform to a standard way of speaking, because there is none.
Stuttering is just one more difference in speaking style among many,
There is also a great sense of equality of people within the country. People do not brag about themselves - not about their education, not about their professional success, not about their economic success. Neither do people ask perfect strangers the ubiquitous question so often heard in the U.S. : "What do you do?" It is considered rude in the extreme to inquire into a stranger's occupation. People who are well-to-do go to great lengths to keep their economic success quiet, and don't try to show it off to neighbors or acquaintances. To flaunt wealth goes against the Norwegian ideal of the equality of people.
The importance of the Norwegian notion of equality also works to the advantage of people who stutter - for whatever one's disability, disorder, or difference, all people are regarded as equal. Having fluency of speech does not make one "more equal" than not having such fluency.
All these positive, life-affirming, and nurturing qualities of Norway encouraged and accelerated my decision to give up my quest to become a perfectly fluently speaking human being. I stopped sacrificing so much of my time to achieving on-target breathing techniques, gentle onsets, stretching syllables, and all the rest. Instead I have learned to fully enjoy and savor every minute of life. Norway makes this task relatively easy to fulfill, not only through its beautiful, peace-oriented, and equality-oriented society, but also in its magnificent picturesque natural scenery - its towering mountains, its sparkling fjords, its lush forests, its beautiful islands, its rugged wilderness.
The recent tragic terror attacks of July 22, 2011 have only served to strengthen the special enduring qualities of the Norwegian people and society. Hundreds of thousands of Norwegians have gathered together in the sad weeks after the attacks bearing roses and pictures of hearts, not seeking revenge, but to further spread the messages of love, peace, and caring for others.
And for me, the Norwegian experience has been an incredible journey. From being a childless bachelor 11 years ago, I now have not only a loving wife, but three adult stepchildren, three grandchildren, and a special-needs foster daughter. In the U.S. I had studied music, mathematics, and speech-language pathology, but here my main work is in special-needs child social services, Yet I also continue to be active as pianist/composer, and can be heard performing in 13 of my works on YouTube.
I no longer have the fluency periods I occasionally enjoyed when I regularly practiced fluency targets, but I no longer have the relapses either, and that suits me just fine. My speech more-or-less stays on an even keel here in Norway, not particularly fluent, but not very disfluent either. And that suits me just fine.
What is fluency anyways? In the end it is a particular style of speaking. And a particular style of speaking says absolutely nothing about the qualities of one's heart and soul. Nor does it need to measure one's happiness or satisfaction with life.
Some years ago, someone who I had known from Precision Fluency gatherings asked Liv how I was doing with my speech targets. "Paul has other targets now", was her truthful response.
Indeed my targets are now life, enjoyment, and happiness - and to me they are so much more fulfilling than correct diaphragmatic breathing, gentle onsets, stretched speech, and stabilized syllables.
And yes, Liv was entirely correct 11 years ago.
I have developed the most PERFECT NORWEGIAN STUTTER.