Words make the language. Without words we would be dumb. Most of us use words
without much particular thought. However, when fear that one may stutter over a word starting with a particularly difficult letter or sound, and make a fool of oneself and be laughed at, even by adults who should know better, one must learn to find an alternative.
The spoken word, being ineluctable, has terrorized me since I can remember. I was always too afraid to experiment with new words that may cause me to stumble when talking. Maybe this is what caused me to want to take up writing. I ruminated for years, but unfortunately procrastinated. Not having to verbalize would leave me free to use any words, even those that caused me to stammer.
I was always at ease when putting pen to paper, but quivered in my shoes if it was necessary to vent to my feelings and concerns by speaking. I remember vaguely several incidents, which I’m sure, must have been an irreparable blow to my self-esteem. One that stands out is my Matriculation exam. An inescapable part of the English test was to read and/or recite prose and poetry. Reading is probably the hardest form of ‘public speaking’ even for those who are glib. I’m sure such memories affected my life and my interactions with the world around me.
I began to express myself in writing many years ago. I emerged from viewing the film, ‘Oliver’. Many African children were begging around the ‘whites only’ cinema. My conscience was aroused. Similarity to mid-19th century Britain struck a powerful note. That was when I penned my first ‘Letter to the Editor’. Perhaps an accumulation of such experiences over the years, also fortified my resolve to leave South Africa.
Finally I stopped prolonging my indecision and joined a group dedicated to creative writing.
Writing short stories, how hard can it be? I thought. Surprise, surprise! Not only does one have to think of a subject or idea, one has to find the appropriate words and have a sequential continuity of thoughts that will make sense to the reader. It takes a sedulous effort to compose an acceptable piece. My creative writing has a rhythm that distinguishes it from that of other writers, not unlike that which differentiates the melodies of Mozart from those of Beethoven, a comparison I use as a simile.
I try to vary my genres. My main interest is writing on a Jewish theme, but to provoke new thoughts I explore other subjects when possible. Usually I am lucky enough to be able to sit for some time writing without my mind going blank. I then reach a point where I feel my mind is saturated. I stop and turn my thoughts and action to some other endeavor, anything but writing.
Throughout the years I have learned, when speaking, to evade words over which I think I may stutter. Even the thought of stuttering, makes me hesitate, most often leading to a worse outcome than if I had remained calm. The word ‘calm’ has a harsh consonant, over which I often stumble, so maybe I will use the word, ‘sanguine’, which has a softer more easily produced sound.
Stuttering, a speech disorder characterized by spasmodic repetition of the initial consonant or syllable of words and frequent pauses or prolongation of sounds, is all about breathing and literally not getting one’s bowel in a knot.
Most words have a substitute, however ‘word’ itself, does not seem to have an alternative. ‘Word’ has other meanings but no substitute when used as a word. The nearest I came to finding a synonym was ‘the smallest unit of language’.
Mood affects speech. When I am ebullient, expressing myself is not a problem. However when in a pother I often struggle to breathe properly, causing a contraction of the stomach muscles and am unable to get the words out.
I have over the years had oneiric thoughts of being a great orator. So unusual is the word oneiric that my ‘Word’ program does not recognize it. I have maybe always been more aware of my defect, because my late father was a consummate speaker. At family weddings, all I might add, from my mother’s side of the family, Dad was invariably the main speaker. As most of the other senior members of the family found it onerous to string a sentence together in English, my father, although self-educated, delivered a flowing oration. He knew how to give encomium to either bride or groom and the families from which they came. His speeches were brief but given in an orotund, but not bombastic, voice.
It may be that having started writing, I am no longer afraid of words, and take an interest in how words are used. I try to be exact in applying my art, knowing I will never be the complete master, by making frequent references to dictionaries and thesauri. One of the wordsmiths whom I respect most is the great Winston S. Churchill. Having listened and read some of his work, it is truly amazing that as a boy he too stuttered.
I have not been able to totally overcome my problem, but have striven to fight the fear of talking either to individuals or groups. This has not always been easy. At my own wedding I chose not to make the obligatory bridegroom’s speech. Subsequently, I endeavored to learn the art of public speaking. I joined Toastmasters, a club dedicated to encouraging anyone, particularly business people, to improve both their self-confidence and presentation skills when standing in front of an audience.
In recent years I have never backed down in the face of a new challenge. I ran my own pharmacy for many years, serving and advising my clients on many aspects of their health. I took my vocation with the gravity health issues require. I know my endeavors to respond to questions, which some doctors have no patience, nor time to discuss, were greatly appreciated. The feeling of being in control of the situation probably gave me the self-confidence to speak without stuttering.
Similarly I undertook a venture to import and market various goods, mainly to pharmacies, traveling to many areas of Israel. For four years I worked as a Real Estate agent, making ‘cold’ calls to advertisers, in order to invite myself into their homes to give them my sales shpiel. In order to do this I made changes, to the supposedly ‘strict’ script, given us by our trainer. I just could not get out the words to which we had been told we ‘must’ adhere. My variation proved as effective as that prescribed. I was trusted and made many friends through my work. However, I did not make enough sales. I decided that the good Lord had not endowed me with percipience in matters of business and turned my efforts elsewhere.
I hope that even though I may not be a J.K. Rowling or a William Shakespeare I may have been given a soupcon of talent for writing.
My speech defect has not been easy to live with, but I think that I can say I am doing my best. Now that I have started to find my way with the written word, I can relax and let my fingers do the talking.