National Stuttering Association

Hi there. Nice to see you again.

How are you holding up during this COVID-19 experience? It all feels so surreal, doesn’t it? Broadway gone dark, countries essentially out of commission, empty toilet paper shelves…We’re all living in a movie that would likely rake in big bucks at the box office. Unfortunately, none of us would see that movie, because we’re afraid of touching any surfaces or being within six feet of another human being.

Yes, it’s a strange time indeed, and most of us are struggling in multiple ways. However, as we all adjust to the realities of social distancing, it’s more important than ever to share our voices. It’s more important than ever to communicate. After all, as human beings, we’re wired for connection.

There are endless ways to communicate, and we’re blessed with a plethora of virtual options nowadays. We’re all very familiar with texting and FaceTiming and expressing ourselves through social media, and some of us still correspond with friends and family via email (the younger folk, not as much). As more of us work from home, we’re growing more accustomed to video conferencing options like Skype and Zoom.

Now, I fully admit that I’m not a huge fan of virtual communication. I’m not on social media nearly as much as everyone else I know, and I’m not even a huge fan of texting. I’m old-school: I prefer a phone call. However, in light of current circumstances, I’m more grateful than ever for all of the options out there, and one of my hopes during this time of transition is that we all continue to reach out in our preferred ways. In the end, maintaining meaningful connection is all that matters.

This week, I keep returning to a heartening thought – one that I think would be helpful for all of us to remember during a time when we’re not quite sure what to do with ourselves. This thought is the moral of one of my most beloved childhood books: Miss Rumphius.

At the beginning of the book, young Alice is talking with her great aunt, who has lived what Alice believes is an exciting life:

“When I grow up,” I tell her, “I too will go to faraway places and come home to live by the sea.”

“That is very well, little Alice,” says my aunt, “but there is a third thing you must do.”

“What is that?” I ask

“You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”

As the book progresses, Little Alice grows up, travels the world, and makes her way to a home by the sea, but she realizes that she hasn’t yet figured out how to make the world more beautiful. Then, after a long winter, she notices some lupines outside her window, the seeds blown by the wind. Inspired, she sprinkles lupine seeds all over her town – and makes the world more beautiful.

My father was recently featured in a local newspaper for his work on the Plaque Project: each person who donates $25 to the local arts conservatory receives a dated plaque for their home, painted by him. As he said in his interview for the article: “I feel very blessed with the talents I’m given and the family I have, so I’m happy to do what my mother told us: to leave the world a better place.”

Make the world more beautiful. Leave the world a better place. We can all do this, no matter how isolated we feel, by sharing our voices. Musicians are hosting virtual concerts in their pajamas, talk show hosts are stirring up laughter from their homes, fitness instructors are leading online classes, and actors are encouraging kids whose school plays were cancelled to share videos of themselves performing songs they now won’t get to perform onstage. People are connecting in whatever ways they can.

People who stutter have an advantage here. True, sometimes it’s tough to get the words out, but we’re forced to be bold and creative on a daily basis! We need to find ways to communicate and connect even when it’s challenging. We’re woven into expert wordsmiths out of necessity, because we want to share our voices.

It takes about 10,000 hours to become an expert at something, and, as a person who stutters, I already have about thirty years of language improvisation under my belt. Even if I only improvise 10% of my language every single day, multiply that by 30 years, and you have…Okay, let’s try it this way:

  • 60 minutes in an hour x about 16 waking hours = 960 minutes/day
  • 960 minutes x 10% of the day speaking (probably being conservative here) = 96 minutes/day speaking
  • 96 minutes/day x 10% = 9.6 minutes/day of language improvisation
  • 365 days x 30 years = 10,950 days I’ve stuttered
  • 6 minutes x 10,950 days = 105,120 minutes of language improvisation

There you go. I’m an expert (times ten!), and I bet you’re an expert, too.

We all have voices to share, and they’re needed now more than ever. We can all leave the world a better, more beautiful place simply by reaching out and sharing those voices. Who’s in?

Thanks for stopping by. And keep sharing your stories, because someone wants to hear them. (Especially now, when we’re all cooped up and need connection and entertainment like never before!)


Jamie Wolff (aka James) is a New York creative arts therapist – turned personal trainer – turned health coach and curriculum developer. As a writer Jamie believes that stories matter; the stories we share and the stories we tell ourselves – they matter. Jamie serves as the NSA Spotlight Writer.

Jamie Wolff