I’ve never been one to shy away from an audience.
I say that as though I often experience crowds of people gathering before me, eager to lend me their attention. To my dismay, this has certainly never been the case though this has not stopped me from amassing audiences on my own.
With colored pencils and copious amounts of glitter, I spent many evenings during my childhood constructing invitations and tickets to distribute to the same four individuals. Each week, my mother, father, grandmother, and brother (him more grudgingly than the others) would greet me at the time designated on the construction paper at the entrance of my living room. I would welcome them and then hole punch their tickets, attempting to emulate the finesse of the man at Dairy Barn who would hole punch my mom’s coffee card. Sometimes they would enter the room to find a collection of drawings displayed beside all of the furniture. Other times they would hear me sing “Over the Rainbow” for the umpteenth time that year.
The afternoon of my first day of first grade was spent with the one of the school’s speech pathologists. As I was walking back to my classroom after our session, I glanced behind me to see the other students that had gone to “speech.” They each pranced through the hallway with one or two folders in their hands. In my arms, I was struggling to carry nine folders. It was explained to me that I could not pronounce the z, r, sh, th, w, f, v, pl, and l sounds. I had a folder for each.
My speech pathologist would begin each session by asking me what I did over the weekend. For the first few months, I loved being asked this question. I loved that Ms. Wolfe listened and could understand me.
After eight months, I was down to one folder: the “r” folder. I walked over to Ms. Wolfe’s desk in May. She greeted me and asked me about my weekend. I began to rant about a picnic at Eisenhower Park and the ball pit at IKEA when I noticed her scribbling notes onto a piece of paper. She was always writing while we spoke, but she usually kept her notepad on her lap, so I was never able to see what she was writing. On this day, however, I saw my name in bold letters at the top of the paper. I saw each tally mark she made as I spoke. I realized that this question at the beginning of each session had been an exercise all along. I was being tested and scrutinized. Ms. Wolfe was merely examining my progress.
On the following Sunday night, I fabricated a story only using words that did not contain the letter “r.” Ms. Wolfe grew frustrated within the first few minutes of our discussion. She asked me about my brother and I referred to him as “that boy” instead of “Garison” or “my brother.” She inquired about my favorite season, knowing that it was summer, and I explained that I changed my mind and now enjoy fall.
I encountered my first major block at a very early age. My eagerness to tell stories and have my voice heard was hindered by this speech impediment that rendered me incapable of expression. I find that while I have now honed my ability to pronounce each sound in the English language, I continue to face similar challenges as an art student. My own intrinsic sense of resistance angers and bewilders me and I often wonder if my current impediment can be defeated. This resistance seems malicious. It mocks me in the same way that I believed Ms. Wolfe had a few years ago. I realize that I never dreamt of being an English or history teacher. I surrendered in December when I applied to colleges that only offered majors that I knew did not appeal to me. There is a Ben Folds lyric that I find particularly pertinent at this point in my life: “And if you’re paralyzed by a voice in your head, it’s the standing still that should be scaring you instead.” I see resignation as absolute stagnation, possibly even regression. It makes sense to me that my fear of this should exceed any feelings resistance.