I loved the opening of Chapter 6. Katherine’s voice, at least in writing, is super Snarky. I’m reminded of her complaint in an earlier chapter about how hard it was to tell a funny story or joke. I wonder if snarky one-liners became her solution.
In the story of her first journalism gig, Katherine focuses on how very poorly her first interview goes, but the Rod-Stewart-interview-death-spiral is not her only conversation at that event. She also engages in lively and successful banter with the well-connected art dealer and his fabulous friends. This will be the defining problem of her early work life. The conversations that matter most to her will be the ones she is least capable of, and the conversations that go badly will be the ones she focuses on.
The question she keeps revisiting: Are others judging her harshly because of her stuttering or is she creating this judgement inside her own head and projecting it on her communication partners? Throughout this chapter, both things seem to happen, but she is about to embark on job interviews, it is hard to imagine a judgier batch of conversations.
Once Katherine lands the jobs she focuses on how minimize job-based talking. Others would be focusing on securing their desired position and climbing the company ladder. Then, because of stuttering, she switches career paths. It is hard to imagine a career path that doesn’t involve at least some high-stress speech situations. That is, in fact, what Katherine finds. In this chapter, Katherine discusses how people who stutter choose and keep or don’t keep their jobs. For some, stuttering is the most important factor, for others, it doesn’t seem to be a consideration.
I have a coworker who stutters. A significant part of her job involves cold-calling people who don’t particularly want to be reached. She is quite good at finding people and getting them to attend ARC meetings, but the phone calls clearly take their toll. Her dysfluencies are not typically noticeable throughout the day, but when she’s on these phone calls, the silent blocks seem to fill our small office and she pounds the desk to get through words. It all seems like so much struggle for her, so much extra work, but when people ask her about her favorite part of the job, it is these phone calls she points to. She likes empowering parents to participate in their child’s education. And she’s good at it.
But why would anyone choose a job that is clearly so hard for them to do?
Have you, as a speech therapist, ever been asked to weigh in on a career decision for a student that stutters, by either the student or his/her parent? I thought it was interesting that Katherine seemed to think that “Speech Therapist” was an unusual job for a person who stutters. I have found that to be somewhat common, and easily explained— like the number of resource teachers with learning disabilities.
In addition to talking about the job-hunt, Katherine also discusses this time in her life as a transition away from safety. I had never before considered how difficult the transition from university to work would be for a person who stuttered. Throughout Part One of this memoir, Katherine has described transitions from smaller schools and smaller circles of friends to larger ones. Going off to university, Katherine had to figure out how to communicate successfully with a lot of new people, but to a certain extent, she treated this as a selection process. If someone reacted badly, she didn’t talk to them again. Eventually she had developed a circle of friends she could speak with “safely.” Work would be different. Every day there would be a new person, boss, client, or co-worker that she had to speak with, and frequently the conversations
would be inherently judgmental or competitive. It is no wonder that this transition to work life lead her to seek out clinical assistance for her stuttering.
When you are working with fluency clients, do you target those transitions from grade school to middle school, middle school to high school, high school to college? What activities do you use? What topics do you address? Do you address the transition at the end of the year, just before it happens; or at the start of the year, while it happens?
Chris Scally, SLP at Peace Academy and Waller-Williams