Guest Post, Elijah Tubbs: A Curse Stole My Voice

Stuttering

The Curse of the Bambino plagued the Boston Red Sox to not win the World Series for eighty-six years after a poor decision where managers sold their star-player, Babe Ruth, to rival team New York Yankees in 1918.

Oh, Babe! they cried.

In an ethereal moment, a lunar eclipse and thick mist, the Red Sox finally won the World Series in 2004, sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals.

Will it take a lifetime for my curse to lift too?

My curse: misfire in my brain, disconnect from thought to mouth to sound then out into others ears. I choke on inanimate objects, words or phrases, sound lodged deep in my throat begging to be free, to be heard the way it’s meant to be heard.

Stuttering left me naked with raw and tender skin, ready to be picked apart by crows since age eight. My stutter defined me throughout school. It doesn’t help that my face contorts like sour candy has gotten stuck in the right side of my mouth either, looking as if there actually is something terribly wrong happening.

No one even knows what causes this, or how to fix it.

Read aloud; talk to your gerbil, Zippo; practice sound like a four year old scribbling on their zoo phonics worksheets. Exercise your voice! work on speaking normal—just a few suggestions from parents, friends, teachers and speech therapists over the years.

Many great minds have been stutterers – look at Winston Churchill, someone said to me somewhere. Fuck Churchill, I want to order a carne asada burrito from Filiberto’s like everyone else without being asked, sorry can you say that again? twice when I pull through the drive thru.

Oftentimes I cannot introduce myself without someone asking if I have forgotten my own name.

A lot of great people are a lot of things and stuttering has almost nothing to do with it, except for the fact that stuttering lead me to empathy, and assumedly those other great men too.

My stutter has allowed me to place myself in another’s position regardless of if I have had that same experience because in the end the person who has Tourette’s, or a lazy eye you just can’t miss has been looked at the same way. And for that I am indebted to my curse because today no one can seem to identify with anyone different from themselves and that’s dividing us as a single people.

Does that make me great or are those great people great because of their status, or talent, and happen to stutter too?

Did years of ridicule also lead to empathy for them? Is empathy the key to their wide spread success?

I don’t know, I’d like to think so.

You don’t know what you’re taking for granted, something as natural as speech. Just as I take for granted the fact that I can pull up my own pants, watch an ocean’s wave crash on the shore and notice salt on my skin, or pick a spoon up and feed myself without dribbling whatever soup I’m eating all over myself staining my shirt.

Fortunately though, like all things subject to time and its corrosive nature, my stutter is fading away.

Time is the only solution that has proven itself, for me. Great, long, lengths of time of constantly being giggled at or questioned or treated like a poor sap whose head isn’t screwed on the right way then persevering through it all, similarly to those unfortunate Red Sox fans.

Still I stutter daily though, hourly even, but now I can at least get a sentence out every now and again, have a real conversation with someone.

My voice is being heard and taken seriously.

Did anyone laugh at Churchill standing high above, pious and profound like, preaching hope to his country? If so, did it tank his self-esteem like mine?

I picture him giving a speech like a truck motor having trouble turning over and his people all gathered there shrugging their shoulders at each other wondering why.

I am not eleven anymore and neither are you, we are not in a classroom or at recess, but there are people who still comment disrespectfully, actually ask if I have forgotten my name and just chuckle and snicker when clearly I am different. Maybe it’s a way to fix the awkwardness for them, a nervous reaction; maybe they’re just an asshole.

Regardless of intention, it still hurts. Treat me like Winston Churchill or Julia Roberts or Bill Withers or Jorge Luis Borges or any other class act that stutters because I’m positive you wouldn’t laugh in their faces, at those “great minds”.

How often is a voice heard? Hello, goodbye, may I take your order? yes I would like…, my name is…, how’re you?, nice to meet you… et cetera. My voice is heard every single day and the simplest words and phrases are lost, jumbled up in the cavernous void of my synaptic trenches tumbling backwards up my throat and out my mouth to you.

Be patient please, with me, and everyone else different from you.

We are all great men and women here, you and I.

SRAWP: Margaret Atwood’s Keynote Speech

I’m terrible at sitting through speeches. I can sit in a lecture hall and watch a PowerPoint, participate in productive class discussions, and I take great chemistry notes. But when it comes to listening to a single speaker stand on a podium without any sort of interactive media, I usually end up thinking about the ceiling or dinner or Words With Friends or something equally not speech-related. The speaker’s well-prepared words waste away right outside my eardrums. It’s pretty embarrassing, the sad state of my attention span.

Thankfully though, this was very much not the case with Margaret Atwood’s keynote speech at this year’s AWP conference in Chicago. Maybe it was the opulent theater, or that I had already eaten, or that her stories are some of the most influential works in my personal reading and writing career…but I was absolutely rapt during the entire event. Her words were well-chosen, hilarious, and put together in a speech just long enough to make it worth the windy walk, short enough to keep me out of Lala-land. Here, then, for all the folks who couldn’t make it, or those who did but were on their phones (tsk tsk), are the main points I took from her time on the podium.

 

MARGARET ATWOOD on THE CRAFT OF WRITING

 

  1. Reading is just as important as writing. Writers who don’t read don’t actually want to write, they just want someone to listen to them talk about their life.
  2. Spelling is the least of your worries as a writer. Leave those sorts of details to editors and that bouncing paperclip in the corner of Microsoft Word.
  3. Part of studying the craft of writing is ripping things up and starting again.
  4. “Artsy-fartsy” vs. “Craftsy-waftsy”: There is a difference between the art and the craft of writing. “Art” implies an elitist state of being, while “craft” is the proletarian act of doing. Even if you are a gifted artist, you will not develop without getting down and dirty with the crafting of your skill.
  5. Writing is a tool, and so can be used to make, fix, or destroy things. Make sure that you are always using the right tool for the right job. That is, your voice, style, and tone should fit the content and emotion of your work.
  6. Keep your literary “key signature” and “tempo” in mind while writing. Is your piece in a “major” or a “minor” key? How fast should it go; where should your story speed up and slow down?
  7. What is your voice? Who is speaking to whom? How much does your reader get to know?
  8. When faced with writer’s block, try some of the following:
    1. Change the tense or narrator.
    2. Alter your first scene.
    3. Go to the movies.
    4. Some words from Charles Dickens to keep in mind: “Make them laugh, make them cry, make them wait.”
  9. There will always be someone who doesn’t like your work. That doesn’t mean that there are any fewer people who do.