About the presenter: Marty Jezer is a writer and political activist. In addition to his memoir Stuttering: A Life Bound Up in Words (http://www.smallpondpress.com) he is the author of biographies of Rachel Carson and Abbie Hoffman (which was made into the film "Steal This Movie") and a history, The Dark Ages: Life in the USA, 1945-1960, as well as numerous magazine articles and a weekly (Friday) newspaper column. He was a founding editor of WIN, an influential Vietnam era anti-war magazine, and a founder of a Vermont commune, which he wrote about in the book Home Comfort: Life on Total Loss Farm. Jezer was also co-founder of The Working Group on Electoral Democracy, a grassroots organization that conceived and promoted legislation for full public financing of elections. He helped draft model legislation that is now law in Maine and Vermont and which serves as the basis for the Clean Money Campaign Reform now promoted by the Washington D.C.-based advocacy group, Public Campaign. Marty lives in Brattleboro, Vermont, where he is an elected representative to Town Meeting, in a blended family that includes his partner Arlene, his teenage daughter and Arlene's four children.

You can post Questions/comments to the author before October 22, 2004.


by Marty Jezer
from Vermont, USA

There were no self-help or on-line discussion groups when I was growing up. Not until I was in my twenties did I meet and talk to an adult who stuttered. I wish that as a kid I had had that opportunity.

Looking back, I wish someone who knew what it was like to stutter had told me that there was nothing to be ashamed of for stuttering in public.

Shame! We who stutter may be born with an organic or genetic predisposition to speak disfluently, but we are not born feeling ashamed of our stuttering. Shame has to be learned, and can therefore also be unlearned. The first step is to become aware of what shame is, and where it comes from.

By shame I mean the wish to disappear when we are stuttering in front of other people, and the desire to be silent rather than risk being perceived as person who stutters.

I learned shame from my otherwise well-meaning parents. When my parents talked to other adults about my speech, they often did so in a hushed voice, as if was too painful to talk about as normal conversation. Playing near by, my ears would perk up. I always knew (kids do!) when I was being talked about. And I always knew by their urgent whispering when they were talking about my speech. If they had to lower their voices when talking about my speech, then my stuttering must be something awful.

So parents, listen up! Be aware of the messages you convey by the way you speak about stuttering. Stuttering is nothing to be ashamed of, for you or for your child. Don't be afraid to talk about it openly and normally, between yourselves and with other adults, and openly and honestly with your child who stutters.

But one can't blame it all on one's parents. I bought into their message. I accepted their definition of stuttering as something I should be ashamed of.

I didn't have to and neither do you. I'm an old guy now, over 60. I still stutter but I do so without shame, without fear of how others perceive me. Though I kept pretty quiet as a kid, I discovered, as I grew up, that I really like talking to people. Not everyone is as naturally talkative as I am. Some of us are naturally quiet. And that's fine: there's no one way that everyone ought to be. We all need to explore who we are and come to understand (and like!) our respective personalities. But only after we overcome the toxic feelings of shame can we truly come to understand and appreciate our true selves -- in all our uniqueness and individuality.

I only wish I had someone to tell me this when I was young: an adult to help me become aware of what the feelings of shame were doing to me; older people to act as role models to show, by their example, ways I might overcome my self-destructive feelings. In discussion groups like this, and in self-help organizations like the NSA, Friends, CAPS and Speak Easy, those role models are available. Pay attention!

I've one other point. The more accepting I am of my stuttering and the less shame I feel about being disfluent, the more willing I am to say what I want to say even though in saying it I still may stutter. And also, the more self-accepting I am, the less tension I have around my lips, mouth, vocal cords and other speaking organs. Self-acceptance isn't in itself a cure for disfluent speech, but it sure makes speaking more fun and easy.

You can post Questions/comments to the author before October 22, 2004.

August 16, 2004

Return to the opening page of the conference