Dear members of the stuttering community,
I would like to add my voice to those of many others in tribute to one of the most inspirational people I have ever known, whose passing has created a deep void in the lives of many of us who stutter.
It was my good fortune to have been a friend of Marty Jezer for the last 11 years. In his beautifully written, captivating, and informative book Stuttering: A Life Bound Up in Words, Marty's words echoed the experiences of many of us of the Tribe of the Tangled Tongue, giving life to our innermost feelings and thoughts, and eloquently mirroring the soul of the person who stutters. Marty succeeded at this task by vividly recounting his life's journey of adventures and mis-adventures, with a gentle warm humor and optimistic outlook that transform our frustrations of life into challenges that can be bravely coped with.
Marty's personality as a human being was as inspirational as his writing in A Life Bound Up in Words. He was a friendly, upbeat, and lively individual, and was gifted with keen intelligence, penetrating insight, sensitivity to others, and a charming wit. He enjoyed life immensely, and this feature of his personality was instantly apparent to anyone sharing the same room with him.
Marty tirelessly dedicated his life to others, and to improving the world we live in. From his 1960's civil rights activism to leadership in the antiwar movement to his recent advocacy of campaign finance reform - and to all the help and support he gave to others who stutter - his life embodied the ancient Hebrew principle of tikkun olam (making the world a better place). For many of us who stutter, Marty was a constant source of encouragement and wisdom - through his extensive writings (not only his autobiographical book, but his many contributions to stuttering forums over the past decade), his energetic presence and dynamic presentations at stuttering conventions and gatherings, and his wonderfully friendly magnetic personality.
Most remarkably, Marty was able to achieve all this with severe stuttering, often blocking on a majority of words in his sentences. He was living proof that stuttering need not hold us back in any endeavors of life, nor prevent any of our dreams and goals from becoming reality - and perhaps, most importantly, that fluency of speech is not a requirement for making lasting positive changes in the world around us.
In contrast perhaps to many others in the stuttering community, the first time I heard of Marty was in a context that had nothing to do with stuttering. In the spring of 1994 Marty's third book Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel (which has since been made into a movie) vaulted into prominence in American nonfiction literary circles, with glowing reviews in Newsweek, the New York Times, and other major media. Hailed as the definitive biography of this famous activist (a countercultural icon of the 1960's), American Rebel was of special personal interest to me: Abbie and his family had for many years lived next door to my father, uncle, and grandparents in Worcester, Mass., and Abbie and my uncle had been close childhood friends. (I had also been a long-time admirer of Abbie's activities.) I took note of the author's name - he was identified in news accounts as a fellow activist of Abbie who had known him personally - and I resolved to buy this new important book.
Within a week, the latest issue of Letting Go (the newsletter of the National Stuttering Project of the U.S.) arrived - and I was astonished to see an item congratulating "our member Marty Jezer" on the publication of his newest book, and its widespread acclaim in the media. Wow! I had no idea that author Marty Jezer was in the NSP (the earlier name of the National Stuttering Association), or that Marty was a person who stuttered.
A couple of days later I attended an NSP regional workshop in Durham, New Hampshire. I found a seat next to a fellow I hadn't met previously, who was wearing an Edinburgh Masker. He turned to me to introduce himself. Blocking severely with a very friendly smile, he told me that his name was Marty. I blocked severely also, and told him that my name was Paul. (At that time I was a dedicated user of Precision Fluency techniques, but was experiencing one of my not-too-infrequent relapse periods - and felt a little guilty about my blocking.) Minutes later, Marty introduced himself to another workshop participant, using his full name. I suddenly put 2 and 2 together. I turned to my new acquaintance and exclaimed, "You're the Marty Jezer who wrote the book on Abbie Hoffman! I read about you last week in Newsweek!"
I immediately told Marty of my family connections with Abbie, and Marty started telling me about his associations with the famous activist. But a few sentences later we had to cut the conversation short, as the workshop was about to start.
During the workshop there was an open mike session. I felt some reluctance to volunteer to speak - I was in a relapse, and was a little afraid to speak (and stutter) in public. I confided this to Marty. He urged me to go ahead and speak anyways, telling me that "it doesn't matter". As if to prove his point, Marty spoke next - blocking severely on nearly every word, Edinburgh Masker and all. "OK, I'll do it," I told Marty after he returned to his seat next to me. He gave me an encouraging pat to the shoulder. I felt very nervous, but spoke to the group about a recent amusing stuttering-related incident in my life, and - contrary to expectations - was fluent on nearly every word. (Such is the unpredictable nature of the "stuttering beast".) Marty congratulated me after I returned to my seat. (I realize now I wasn't being congratulated for my fluency, but for the fact I found the courage to give my speech. But in my state of mind at that time, I thought it was for the former reason.)
That day was the beginning of a long friendship. Marty and I met again at quite a few other conventions, symposia, and regional workshops, and also corresponded in between - first by snail mail, then by e-mail. We shared many interests in common - with similar ethnic/religious backgrounds, political leanings, therapeutic histories, and a fascination with electronic devices for stuttering.
A few years later when I read his next book Stuttering: A Life Bound Up in Words I noticed we had shared a nearly identical experience at the age of 13. Marty describes in one chapter how, on the day of his Bar Mitzvah, he got into a ferocious block on the first sound ("b") of his very first word ("baruch", meaning "blessed"), standing in front of the huge congregation. So did I. Marty relates in his book how a synagogue official, after waiting a considerable time for him to complete his first word, administered a swift "chop" of his elbow to young Marty's shoulder blade, literally knocking the word out of him. After that, he chanted fluently to the end. There was no synagogue official standing nearby to knock the word out of me, but eventually my megablock ended (from sheer exhaustion); and after that single hurdle, like Marty, I chanted fluently to the end. I told Marty of this shared experience at the next NSA convention, and we both had a good laugh together.
After I moved from Massachusetts to Norway five years ago to marry, I didn't see Marty as often. But we kept in contact occasionally by e-mail.
At a Speak Easy symposium in early May 2000 (almost six years exactly to the day after Marty and I had first met at that New Hampshire workshop), I had the pleasure of introducing my brand-new fiancée Liv (we had been engaged for about 10 hours) to Marty and Arlene.
About a month ago when I was visiting the U.S., Marty sent me a letter, regretting that he could not attend a restaurant dinner I had planned in Massachusetts for people who stutter. He wished me well, and for the first time ever in his communications to me, closed with "Love, Marty". It was clear that Marty sensed that it might be his last letter to me. It was.
Marty Jezer will be long remembered, and will be missed by very many people. When he was close to the end, he told an interviewer that he had a "marvelous life". Our own lives are more marvelous for having known him.
- Paul Goldstein