Saturday, April 28, 2007

Odd Bits Here and There

I have been very busy both with work and things going on in my personal life. I wish I could say work has been creatively fulfilling, but, alas, it has not: it has just been work: you know, drudgery, blue collar stuff, sweat of your brow, digging ditches. I won’t bore you with the details. Last weekend I attended a three-day symposium for stutterers at a Holiday Inn in Saddle Brook, New Jersey. As I have mentioned before, I stutter, though not severely, and am affiliated with two support groups which I distinguish by calling one the “fluency” group and the other the “feelings” group. The members of the fluency group gather only to do exercise drills in what is called the “airflow technique,” a way of speaking designed to help the stutterer speak with less disfluency. We are all very friendly but keep quite focused on why we are there, and “fine” ourselves 25 cents for every vocal misstep we commit. The feelings group mainly talks about the baggage we stutterers have accumulated over the years and carry with us, and we work hard on accepting and forgiving ourselves as people who stutter. Nearly everyone in that group has, in the past, paid good money and spent considerable effort learning one fluency technique or another, but few of us actually use that time to practice, so you see a lot of struggle behavior going on during these sessions. Last September I accidentally became the chapter leader of this group (long story), so I’m the guy who arranges these little meetings and sets the agenda.

I arrived in Saddle Brook for the symposium Friday evening after an unusually slow, painful drive from Boston through New York via the George Washington Bridge. It was more brake than gas pedal the whole way. There were four of five accidents along the route that led to a lot of stopping, moving twenty feet and stopping again. At one point after crossing the border from Connecticut into New York, my bladder, which had been trying to tell me something for a number of miles, finally made it very plain that if I didn’t take corrective action soon I might arrive at my destination not very dry and with a distinct freshness problem. Just leaving what might have been the Deegan Expressway (I can never remember the names) and inching onto a ramp leading to another congested highway, I gathered my resolve and pulled over to the breakdown lane; I switched on the emergency flashers, got out of the car, locked it, stuck my arm out like a traffic cop to signal the other drivers to stop, crossed the road, hopped over a low guard rail, sprinted across a field some one hundred yards in length, and huddled in front of a high concrete barrier to relieve myself in full view of everyone. What a show I must have put on. How I regretted the quart of water I drank along the way and the cup of tea I bought at a rest stop just outside of New Haven. When I returned to cross the road, two truck drivers anticipated me by stopping the traffic and letting me pass. They were not laughing; they understood. I waved to them in gratitude.

I made some friends at the symposium. It was a bit like how I remember summer camp was as a boy; back then, the kids seemed to form alliances within the first day and became bosom friends. There were three keynote speeches that weekend which were very well prepared and delivered; I participated in several workshops, and we all ate our meals together. There might have been as many as fifty of us, most of them from the area; all the New York and New Jersey accents reminded me of the Sopranos. You might think stutterers have a lot in common, that our personalities must be similar, but in reality the only thing we share is our speech disorder and we are all as different from each other as any other random sampling of the population; and even then there are no two stutters that are alike. There are closet stutterers who are quite masterful at hiding their disfluencies by substituting words or opting for silence rather than take risks with their speech; some struggle in silence, making all manner of odd facial expressions until they finally, in the end, produce the sentence with no stutter at all like a conjurer’s trick; and there others who more or less let it all hang out, get stuck on words, blast their way through them, then go on a roll for several sentences until they encounter another “block” and need to grind it out again. I’m sort of like that last type, only I do substitute words every so often and try to use my airflow technique when I can remember. People tell me they hardly notice my stutter and claim it doesn’t look like it bothers me when it happens. I take that as high praise.

********

Jason of Clarity of Night held another flash fiction contest recently, which my good buddy, Scott, told me about in an email. I informed him I was too busy to participate (which I was), but promised I would check in when I could to read some of the entries. When Jason does these, he posts a photograph he’s taken (Jason is both is a talented photographer and writer) and invites people to write stories no longer than 250 words in length based on the image. After the deadline, Jason then judges each entry using a system he devised and awards generous prizes. It’s great fun and a wonderful writing exercise, getting in all you can in 250 words or less. Usually I go right to the limit, editing and re-editing, replacing three words with one like a boxer starving himself to make the weight limit, so this process of asking the fewest words to cover the longest distances can make it sometimes seem more like solving a puzzle.

This time around around, Jason posted a photo of a cluttered kitchen counter with a sink crammed with dirty dishes. The curtain of the window in front of sink has come loose and fallen into the sink, making the observer wonder how long those dirty dishes have been there, and just what is the state of the home. There are equal signs of activity and disuse, habitation and desolation. Which is true? Can they both be? What is the story?

So I logged onto Jason’s site, saw the picture, asked myself what story could I write about it if I had the time, and then thought, well, I’ll give myself fifteen minutes to try. I started off with the sentence “When you close your eyes at night, you can be anywhere,” and this is where I wound up:

“When you close your eyes at night, you can be anywhere. Darkness brings you where you want to be. You can change your space, right there in your room, the same room with warped paneling and stains everywhere that won’t come out; your room can be the palace at Versailles, I swear. Who’s to say different when you’re all alone?

“Morning is harsh, though. Damn sun finds its way in everywhere, birds won’t shut up either. Motes of dust slow dance in the air, hanging there, hanging there, refusing to breathe or come to a point. Place is a wreck today. I forget all that went on last night. Somebody said something, it might have been her, it might have been me. She took off in the truck, I don’t even need to look to see that. I'll find out later what she took with her.

“Sometimes inertia isn’t a choice. The fight just goes away. Struggle to your feet all you want. Get up, take a leak, brush your teeth, fry an egg, pop a pill, fix the curtains, sooner or later down you go. Down . . . you . . . go. Man, I need the darkness. Got to get me some darkness real soon.”

Not even 250 words. Maybe not the finest thing I ever wrote, but I really like the mood of it. Not so much a story as a sort of glimpse or a slice of time. Most of the entries are better than this, but I enjoyed writing it.

********

Last week I wanted to write a post about the Virginia Tech shooting; the title would have been “Say No to Cho.” Here were my two points: number one, the extent of the media coverage regarding the murderer himself was irresponsible. In giving the public what it wanted, which was everything they could lay their hands on about the shooter, our slavering watchdogs of the press glorified him. There are nitwits out there right now who have hung on their walls reprints of the stills news outlets faithfully reproduced from the media kit Cho Seung-Hui thoughtfully sent to NBC: carefully staged portraits of himself with pistols in either hand, ammo vest with pockets bulging, baseball cap slung backwards, looking cooler than anything they ever saw in a Quentin Tarantino movie. Sure, we we’re all curious about him, we all wanted to hear what he had to say and see what he looked like, just like I am always curious about what a fan is doing when he leaps onto a baseball field and interrupts a major league game. I’m curious, but I understand why television stations don’t show the moron cavorting around center field making a complete ass of himself, because giving that idiot the notoriety he seeks will only encourage other similarly disposed idiots to do the same. I’m not so curious that I can’t see the sense of that policy, and consider not seeing or knowing everything a small sacrifice. With Cho, everyone with a TV and an Internet connection has seen his pathetic posturing and heard his absurd, sick, muddled rants, including myself. Say all you want about your right to know, this, my friends, goes too far. He parlayed his allotted fifteen minutes of fame into instant international recognition. Our culture threw him an 85 mph fastball right down the middle of the plate and he got all of it. This bastard will live on forever through his actions while the innocent slain will sink into eventual obscurity. Maybe someday we’ll wise up and call people like Cho Seung-Hui a fittingly generic name, like “Murderer Number 12,” and offer no pictures and allow no personal statements to reach the public’s ear and leave it at that. We’ll probably need to get the Constitution drunk one night and make it agree to things it wouldn’t while sober, but a Constitution with a hangover and vague feelings of regret is better than indulging in an unhealthy freedom of the press where absolutely anything goes, with no sense of restraint or decency.

Point number two: I feel bad for the shooter’s parents. I grieve for them as much as I do for the families of his victims. I will guarantee you right now they didn’t raise that kid to be like this. Certainly they must have made mistakes, ignored warning signs, should have done what they could to get him therapy or whatever, but no parent anticipates this. What mother or father can ever admit to giving birth to and nurturing a monster? Their lives are stained forever. The guilt by association will never wash off. They lost a child, and the manner of his passing makes it a sin to mourn him. Grief feels like complicity; they’ve got guilt and shame and hatred coming at them from every conceivable angle. They, the ones left behind, will be blamed and feel the blame for this until the release of death. For this they have my sympathy.

11 Comments:

Blogger tiff said...

A week's worth of posts...all at once. Wow!

I do like your short-short for clarity of night. There are just enough words I think. I like the it about finding out later what she took.

5:24 PM  
Blogger briliantdonkey said...

Good story over at TCON schprock. Especially if it only took you 15 minutes to do it. It is great how when you lay down to sleep at night you CAN indeed go anywhere and we rarely choose to be where we are. As for the VT shooting I couldn't agree more if I tried. I was worried ahead of time that this would end up 'making him famous' which is what he wanted. The results went way above and beyond my wildest dreams after they aired his whole tape etc. Now every idiot with a gripe is seeing that stuff and looking for their 15 minutes. Sickening!

I too feel as much for his family who will get a lot of the blame as I do for the victims.

Great post as usual.

BD

8:35 PM  
Blogger rennratt said...

I learned more about life from the shootings in PA, with the Quakers.

Who remembers that when another shooting happens? Tragically few. Why? Because the families that lost children requested privacy, they reached out to the family of the shooter, and they tore down the place where the violence occurred.

Parents do the best they can to raise decent human beings. Sometimes, regardless of effort, it just doesn't seem to be enough.

We live in a culture of no personal responsibility. It is always someone elses fault. We aren't loved enough; we aren't smart enough; we were allowed to watch MTV...

With rules like that, how can we expect any other outcome?

5:21 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

I read about the stuttering, the contest, then began skimming. I can't do a week all at one time, but I'm honest about it.

I wrote about the contest today. I was sad you didn't comment on mine as I did yours, but I got over it. LOL

I have a stutter once in a great while. I'll get stuck on a word. It started maybe last year, but it isn't bad at all and happens every few weeks now so I can't complain.

I don't agree on the stance with Cho's parents. I truly think warning signs start a very young age and the parents HAVE to do something about it, but I still like you.

5:12 AM  
Blogger Shatterfist said...

Kudos for making up for lost time. It's a risk devoting yourself to long posts; not everyone reads the whole thing, as I well know. As I recently learend, they lock onto one thing and obsess over it in the comments!

Incidentally, I used to stutter pretty bad myself. It was mainly due to nerves. I had to learn to be more "ascertive".

I agree with you about Murderer Number 12's parents. There's no evidence that they had anything to do with his psychotic rampage, people just want a scapegoat - and he's already dead.

Sadly, the media doesn't create the mystique surrounding murderers. They feed it, certainly; but the dark secret is there's always some whack job or morbid individual who develops a fascination with things like this. That should be an early warning sign right there.

6:32 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

Yay for a long post. I did that, and it'll be it for awhile. I think one of our clients is a stutterer. Never met him, but he blocks on certain words on the phone and then goes great guns. At first, I thought he was just a slow talker. Still more articulate than me.

1:29 PM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

As always, Schprockie, a premium post, worth waiting for.

My thought on VTA is to ignore Murderer #12 and when I get to it, I'm going to take one of the victims and write a little tribute to him. So, in a few years, maybe I, and somebody who reads me, will be able to name and remember at least one of the victims when someone mentions Murderer #12. Kind of like I can't do with the Columbine victims.

5:50 PM  
Blogger Biff Spiffy said...

Brilliant post. Like Tiff said, 'atsa lotta content!

Great story - just right. Took me 3 different places effortlessly. I got into blogging because of a little contest like that.

You're running for office, right? Where do I vote?

I'm most impressed with your frank way of addressing your stuttering, and the ways you're part of a support community. How cool! Something to be proud of right there.

8:46 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

I've heard you speak before, Mr. Schprock. For all the worry you have expressed about stuttering, you barely ever do it. And it's more like a slight pause that could be mistaken for deep thought, and it's only because you've told me about it that I even noticed at all.

On the VT shootings, some of the students put up a memorial for the shooter, and it caused an uproar. I know that we are supposed to be enlightened, but it really bothers me that someone could insult the victims by putting the killers marker next to theirs.

6:24 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Oh, and I used "washing windows in the rain" yesterday. Strange thing is ... I didn't think about it, it just flew out of my mouth. Watch this become an every day phrase for the world!

9:57 AM  
Blogger NYPinTA said...

Great story.
I don't stutter, but I forget words sometimes. Man is that annoying!
Agree 100% on the shooting and it's aftermath. The only thing about the news showing the tapes that I hope is that anyone that might be of the same bent will see and hear just how ridiculous he sounds and think to themselves, "uh, no. I don't want to be remembered as *that guy*." and get some help instead.
I think the parents did try to get him some help. He was institutionalized once if I recall correctly. There were plenty of mistakes made. His name should have been in the system to prevent him from buying guns, the college didn't listen to the concerns of the teachers or other students about him.... it's all just so sad. And frustrating. He was offered help. But I think he wos too sick to know he needed to accept that help.
The english teacher that kicked him out of her class was in our area right after the shooting. She had agreed to come up before it happened and didn't want to break her commitment. Naturally our news people asked her about him. All she said was that she felt he had an evil soul and he was a piece of crap and she was tired of talking about him. Not very poetic, but I can understand her snippyness.

12:59 PM  

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