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to tv or not to tv: that is the question

…Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of paying a fortune,
Or to take arms against a web of troubles,
And by unplugging end them: to Wi-Fi, to stream
No more; and by a stream, to say we end
The buffering, and the 320+ premium channels
That Dish is heir to?

Clearly I have a bit too much fun with this stuff.

My point is – I haven’t owned a TV in eight years.  But I’m moving very soon, and Time Warner is dangling the cable carrot at a very palatable price if I bundle it with Internet.

Ach!  What to do?  I’ve developed an identity around being TV-free.  I’m kind of attached to it, even though I try to practice non-attachment (“practice” being the key word).

There is a certain cachet about not having a TV.  It’s like being an ex-pat, which I’ve been.  Or not drinking coffee (which I gave up in January, with very good results.)

Yet my choice not to have a TV has been about other factors – it all started while I was living in London and decided there were other things I wanted to do with my time.  And I really like seeing movies in a theatre.  Since then, there’s another reason I’ve been happy to go sans TV:  information overload.

I must admit, there are times I’ve missed TV – during the Olympics, oncoming hurricanes, and the Oscars.

Now the question is, do I go there?  And, if so, in what form?  I definitely don’t need a bunch of channels.  I just want to be able to stream Netflix and finally watch Downton Abbey when the next Snowpocalypse hits – on something larger than my laptop.  And have an Oscars party.

But there are so many options, my head is spinning.  Internet + basic cable?  Internet + Smart TV?  Regular TV + Apple TV?  Or some weird thing called Roku?  Then there’s the issue of suppliers.  RCN is out since it’s not supported by my new building.  And Verizon would mean I’d need to get a landline, another thing I’m happy going without.

Bottom line:  I like to streamline.  And stream.

Of course, all this means that I’d also need to, er, buy a TV.  But not necessarily cable.

So I’m opening up the floor – I’d love to hear your solutions and recommendations.  Do you hook-up your computer to your TV or use an external device?  If so, which one?  Am I hopelessly disconnected for asking this in the first place?  What’s the minimum Internet speed I need to be able to watch streaming content seamlessly?

love story: nell & adam

“Online dating sucks…until the one time it doesn’t.”

It’s a great line, and if anyone out there uses it, they should give credit to my friend Nell Reid.  Nell’s one of my favorite examples of how your life can turn around in an instant:  she met her husband Adam the very same day she jumped back on JDate after a hiatus.

Nell had what you’d call a “shift”: she had just returned from a trip to Iceland – and there, on a rooftop, she looked up at the sky and rattled off a list of qualities she wanted in a man.  She came back from the trip in such a great frame of mind and feeling so good about herself, that she re-wrote her profile.

“I secreted him,” she says, referring to, of course, The Secret, which she had read a few months before.

“Adam was living in Washington Heights, and I was in the East Village,” so we probably wouldn’t have met otherwise.  But then we figured out we’d been at the same midnight screening of Lord of the Rings a few years before.”

Their second date came shortly after.  “He took me to see Darjeeling Limited and then out for Indian Food.  I thought that was clever,” she recalls.

The connection was instant and deep, and they quickly became very comfortable with each other… so much, that Nell invited him home for Thanksgiving – even though they’d only known each other for two months.

Then she “had a bug out,” as she calls it.

“The Thanksgiving before, my ex had been home with me; and it all just felt weird.  I freaked. It was moving too fast for me, and I told him we needed to slow down.”

Adam gave her the space she needed, and they went their separate ways.  But he never stopped letting her know how he felt about her.  He even invited her to vacation in St. John in December, but she already had plans to go to Mexico.

“We kind of took that time off from each other.  When we returned, we started hanging out and things quickly got serious again.”

In January 2009, he proposed to her on his birthday – at the same restaurant they had their first date.  They were married at a barn in the Berkshires on October 3, 2009.

During the rehearsal dinner, Adam, who’s a filmmaker (check out his award-winning feature Hello Lonesome) surprised her with a short video he made.  The voiceover is Adam reading his JDate profile:

Beautiful, right?

Their secret (besides The Secret)?  Well, from over here, it’s clear that they both support each other’s passions: Nell believed in Adam’s movie from the start and was a pivotal factor in its production, and Adam encouraged Nell to leave her job in advertising sales to discover her bliss.  You can read all about that on her blog, Nell’s Dish du Jour.

Lately, her bliss is their baby boy Theo, who just turned 7 months and who is so yummy I almost ate him when we met for lunch.

Photo courtesy Nell Reid

Nell’s a gifted photographer, and it’s no surprise that Adam has also been turning his camera on their favorite subject:

Did this story warm your heart?  Please pass it on and share the love!

6 life lessons from acting class

The debates have me thinking a lot about acting – or, rather, not acting.

So it’s as good a time as any to post something I’ve been meaning to share for a while:  back in May, I took a one-week intensive acting workshop at the New York Film Academy – yes, the place with the big sign. I had a few things in mind:

  • I wanted to try something completely different and fun
  • As a cinephile, I wanted to step into the actor’s experience
  • I wanted to chisel away at my terror of public speaking
  • I really, really wanted to get out of my head, stop over-thinking things, and live more in the moment.

The week delivered abundantly on all these fronts.  Most of the time, I was busy scribbling away the pearls of wisdom from our main teachers, Lea Brandenburg and Dan Winerman.  Here’s the gist of it:

1. It’s all about the other person

In acting, you’re not supposed to be thinking about you or your lines.  If you do, you’ll look like you’re overacting.  You won’t give a convincing performance.  You’ll come across as weird and self-conscious.  You’ll make the other person uncomfortable – and everybody else who’s watching. What’s more, you’ll have a terrible time while you’re at it.

The audience wants real people, not people in their own heads playing their own lines.

At all times, it’s NOT ABOUT YOU. When you focus on whomever you’re with – without expectations – suddenly there’s connection.  Believability.  And what’s really neat is that that’s when you end up reaping the most rewards.

2.  Know that you WILL mess up

It’s not a question of if but when.  Everybody misses a line.  At the very least.  It’s what humans do.  Most of the time, the audience won’t notice.  You need to keep calm and carry on.  Cover it with grace.  Water under the bridge.

This was the big takeaway for me.  We all spent days rehearsing our lines, and we all messed up.  But I took it especially hard.  I always knew I was hard on myself, but I hadn’t realized just how much.  Not only that, but I volunteered to do an extra scene, which means that I actually set myself up for difficulty by creating impossible circumstances.   I need to work on giving myself the same compassion as I do others, and easing up on myself for not getting everything right.  Let myself be human. Which brings me to…

3. Accept everything that happens

In film, you can do as many takes as you need to.  On stage, there are no rewinds.  You can’t stop in the middle of a play and say, “I can’t believe I blew it.  I’m such a fool!” and then proceed to beat yourself up about it while the audience sits there.  Although that might make for interesting entertainment.

We don’t always have the perfect words in every moment. You have to accept that these are all the words you have in this moment. Say it (or don’t), and let it go.  It’s completely useless to self-flagellate.  It keeps you and everybody else stuck.  And while we’re on the topic of acceptance…

4. Don’t force the feelings

To quote Dan, “Have you ever had someone try to demand a feeling from you?  It’s exhausting.  So don’t demand it of yourself.”

Whatever you’re feeling or not feeling is okay. In acting, you’re not supposed to try to act out an emotion.  It just ends up looking like you’re acting.  As in life, emotions are believable when they happen without prompting.

5.  Acting well is acting in the moment

You can rehearse a scene a million times, and it will always come out differently.  You can have an idea of a certain intonation you want to use on a particular word; but if you stubbornly hold on to that, you entirely miss the point.

Even if you’re doing a monologue, you are never operating in a vacuum.  Everything is changeable moment to moment.  The only thing you can do is release expectations and pre-conceived ideas and just be in that moment.  And be guided by one principle…

6.  As an actor, your higher calling is to tell the truth

And so it is off the set.  You can never go wrong being you, whoever that you is in that moment.  It can be scary, but it’s the only way to get someone else to see that you’re also a human being – to believe you, and to believe in you.

Essentially, acting is simply about being human and creating a safe space for someone else to do the same – complete with all the foibles that come along with it.

london loves from an old local

The bathroom at Jones' Wood Foundry on Manhattan's Upper East Side

One year ago today I came full circle: LHR to JFK.

It was the best decision I made since I undertook the opposite move nearly seven years before.

Now I get the best of both worlds – I feel equally at home in both cities. And while I might miss some of my old haunts, I take great pleasure in directing you to them. Here’s the list I keep sending to friends making the trip across the pond…

Top spot: Borough Market by London Bridge. It’s normally only open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays. Go there around 11am, graze, and just marvel at everything.  The Comte from Borough Cheese Company is well worth a nibble.  And if you need a perk, you can’t do better than a cup from Monmouth Coffee.

After Borough Market, wander down to the Thames River Path, then keep going west to Southbank. It’s a nice stretch along the river with restaurants, concert venues, and usually something colorful happening outdoors. You’ll also get a very romantic view of London as it gets dark.

If you’re in the mood for fish & chips, you’ll find it at most pubs; but for a special treat go to Geale’s in Notting Hill.

For a great British breakfast, check out my favorite cafe/free wifi place/concert space The Tabernacle, also in Notting Hill.

Two words: Indian food. Kahn’s in Bayswater is an institution.  I also love Rasa.

After Kahn’s, walk down to Artisan Du Chocolat for killer hot chocolate – thick and rich enough to spoil you for life. They also have a stall at Borough Market.

Get some museum action in South Kensington (V&A, Science Museum, Natural History). The Kensington Creperie is next door. Drool-worthy sweet and savory crepes.  Or head to The Abingdon for the most memorable sticky toffee pudding ever.

For a spot of history and solitude, stop in at St. Etheldreda in Farringdon, the tiny church where Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon.  If you’re lucky, the crypt will be open.  When you’re done appreciating the architecture and stained glass, head to Piada on St. John street for relatively inexpensive and delicious Italian filled flatbread.

After that, go right across the street to Vinoteca for a glass.  Speaking of vino, a must-see is Gordon’s, the oldest wine bar in London. But not if you’re claustrophobic – you’ll have to descend stairs into a cavernous space. This is near Embankment which also happens to be near…Covent Garden. You’ll want to take a peek around there and pause at Scoop for the best gelato outside Italy.

And if theatre’s your thing, the TKTS discount ticket booth is about a 10-minute walk away in Leicester Square.  Or find out why cinema is so much cooler than the movies at Curzon – the Soho branch has a perfectly-placed Konditor and Cook cafe for a sneaky slice of something sweet.

As for logistics, buy Oyster cards for the tube and bus when you arrive. For me, the best way to enjoy London is to see where the crooked and cobbled streets take you.

Bonus super-secret tip:  lunch at Books for Cooks off Portobello Road.  The test kitchen at the back serves London’s best three-course deal.  But you have to know the drill:  get there at least 20 minutes before noon to nab one of the few seats, and be prepared to charm the regulars so they don’t hate me too much for telling you about this.  I enjoyed them – and this special place – so much.

what to do with your mom in new york

Mother figure: Fernando Botero’s “Eve” at the Time Warner Building

For me, there’s only one way to travel:  with the tongue.  My trips revolve around food.  It’s something I learned from my mother, who trained me to eat out since before I could chew.  So when my mom was preparing to visit me last week, I first made a list of my regular haunts to introduce her to.  Then I looked at the list and sighed.  There was no way we could hit them all in the time she was here.

Here’s what we ended up doing – with a few non-gustatory attractions thrown in.  Bear in mind I live in the Village and wanted her to get a feel for my neighborhood, so most of these are downtown…

Day 1

Mom wanted tapas since she can’t get them in Orlando.  This threw a bit of a wrench in the plans since, even though I love Spanish food, it’s not a regular thing for me.  We followed a Time Out tip to Las Ramblas on West 4th which, disappointingly, didn’t score highly with us.  If I had a redo, I would have taken her to Pipa; and that’s where you should take your mama, too.

Day 2

If you’re not a theater buff, Broadway tickets are going to shock you.  But it’s mom we’re talking about here, so you’d better shell out.  We headed to the TKTS booth in Times Square on a sweltering day, but don’t bother.  Here’s the trick:  go to the theater’s box office 45 minutes before the performance and wait for returns.  That’s where you’ll get the best prices.  And, even though I cringed at the idea, Sister Act, it turns out, is surprisingly fun for both mother and child.

After that, we jumped on the A train down to High Street for legendary Grimaldi’s pizza.  Getting there post-matinee – around 5pm – was key.  No usual marathon wait, and you’re out the door for a scoop at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory faster than you can say “mamma mia.”

Day 3

When your mom is a Cuban Catholic and your dad is a Russian Jew, there’s one thing you gotta do: get a history lesson at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum followed by an order of blintzes at B&H.

Did you know that if you live in an apartment building, you live in a tenement?  The root “tener” is Latin for “to hold,” and a tenement is simply a building that holds at least three families.  During the museum’s tour of the Orchard Street residence, you and your mom will also learn about the Prussian homemaker whose husband went to work and never returned (he skipped out on the family and was later discovered in Ohio), and, conversely, about the Italian cabinetmaker who went to great lengths to sneak his wife into the country sans papers.

Oh, I nearly forgot:  we started the day at the best breakfast (with the strongest coffee) in town:  Cafe Mogador.

Day 4

A place with 8 little tables and the best panini this side of Italy is special, as is your mom.  So take her to ‘ino on Bedford Street, where she’ll swoon over the stellar cheeses and fixings encased in perfectly pressed ciabatta.  Wash down with their freshly squeezed OJ, then head uptown for a stroll around the lower portion of Central Park before sinking your spoons into a lofty – and shareable – chocolate soufflé at Bouchon Bakery in the Time Warner Building at Columbus Circle.

At night, go to Suzie’s Finest Chinese Cuisine on Bleecker Street for old times’ sake – it’s where my mom and I ate when she moved me here in 1997 for grad school.  The food’s not so fine anymore; and maybe it wasn’t back then, either.  But I was 22 and had a lot to learn.

Wander up to Rocco so mom can pick up a real cheesecake as her carry-on luggage.  A very important detail they didn’t teach at NYU.

Have a glass of vino at my local Tavern on Jane – where the tables are draped with white paper and topped with big fat crayons.  A great spot to meet friends, talk for hours, and listen to your mom’s words of wisdom.

Day 5

Run over to Murray’s Bagels on 6th Ave between 12th and 13th for half a dozen so she can fulfill the remaining carry-on quota.  They’re each hot in the bag, crusted over with the necessary sprinklings, and worth every $1.15.

That’s all, kids.

when are you in “the zone”?

When I recorded my street interview last week with Taylor, the ukulele player, I was in the zone.  When I’m chopping vegetables with a hypnotizing seesaw of the blade, I’m in the zone.  Same goes for when I used to practice the metronomic strokes in a boat on the Thames and when I’m biting – ever so slowly – into a City Bakery chocolate-chip cookie (love story here).  When I’m writing a piece like this that gets me out of bed in the middle of the night, I’m in the zone.

If you’re looking to find your purpose and your passion, look no further than your zone.  The zone is that place where all other thoughts go quiet.  It’s where time stops, flies, warps, and plays tricks on you.  Your energy is boundless.  You merge.  Anything that commands your entire attention also falls into the zone – sports, a great piece of music, a really good meal, sex.  Why?  Because you’ve moved from the thinking realm into the sensing one.  You’re in.  And we’re wired to concentrate on only one thing at a time in order to derive pure enjoyment from it.

That’s why the zone is such a great way to define what you’re here to do.  The zone is at the basis of your big dream.  And, next to “how did you fall in love?” – it’s also my favorite question.

I’ve been able to ask this question a lot lately.  I volunteer at a local federal employment agency.  As a mentor, I help people who are out of work get back into it. Some of them haven’t had a job in years.  Many of them have been incarcerated.  Others have physical limitations.  All of them come to the session with more than a few reservations.  They might not look me in the eye at first.  They think I’m going to grill them.  There’s an air of formality and apprehension – that is, until I ask them about their zone.

I’ll say, “Tell me, sky’s the limit, what you’d love to do.  And what is it, now, that you already do that you love?”  The minute I ask this, the tension melts like butter.  Eyes widen, shoulders soften, a smile spreads across the face, and there is instant connection.  One guy, after first telling me he was looking for a construction job, admitted that what he really wanted was to write a book about redemption.  We went on to share a 20-minute conversation – he turned into another person, shedding the cloak of shyness he walked in with and talking very eloquently about his personal journey.

Sometimes the zone isn’t what it appears to be.  In this case, the spirited way he spoke clued me in to what his zone was; it wasn’t necessarily writing a book, it was telling his story however he could – and inspiring other people in the process.

The great news is that we’re not limited to a single zone.  But you’ll know when you’re in yours.  The zone is where you are your best you, and where you, by happy default, make the most positive difference to others.  Next time you’re feeling utter rapture for what you’re doing, ask yourself why you’re not doing it more often and how it’s lining up (or not) with your big dream.

how to follow your heart

View from Hudson River Park with the Statue of Liberty in the distance

I used to think I was terribly indecisive.  I would agonize over possibilities in the shower, while I ate, in my sleep.  It got so bad that often I would hand my decision making to someone else or back myself into a corner so the decision would be made for me.

Then something happened last year that made me see things in a whole new way.  Something that showed me decisions aren’t to be “made” – they come.  And if they’re not coming, there’s no decision to be made.  Talk about relief.

What was it?  The decision to move back to New York.  But it wasn’t a decision.

Here’s how it happened:  I was in London, having been through some very difficult months and enough moving around to give you whiplash.

It was early October.  I was sitting in the kitchen of my sublet in Notting Hill, wrapped in a heavy blanket because of the notorious bad heating.  I had been debating what to do for weeks – I was ready to move back to the States, but where?  I had my eye on California – Santa Barbara, to be precise – but something in my heart pinched.  For some reason, I hadn’t bought the plane ticket.  I hadn’t made plans.  My body was making no movements in that direction.  There was no force moving me there.

And then that’s when I felt it – a force.  At first, it was barely a flutter.  And the flutter ventured: how about New York?

New York?  What?  Been there, done that, I’d always said.  But not this time.  New York?  Really?  Again?  No, not again, came the flutter/force…anew.

Anew.  Yes.  I could see my old city with new eyes, experience it again for myself, appreciate it all the more, and invite new, better beginnings.  Not to mention be a whole lot closer to my family and the friends I had left behind.  It just made complete and utter…sense.

And then everything clicked with tremendous force.  The apartment was found.  The plane ticket was bought.  The boxes were shipped.  All in a matter of days.  No thinking, no debating, no decision making.  It simply came.  And it all felt right.  Within less than a month, I was re-united with my first love.

That’s when I saw that all my “indecisiveness” in the past was simply about not having the right option at the right time.  Decision making is like falling in love – you just know.  You can’t control it, you can’t predict it; and, if it’s not happening, then it’s simply not time yet.

And here I am, over four months later, not regretting a thing and certain this is exactly where I need to be.

Deciding Not To Decide

I had the opportunity to share this learning with a friend in London over a Skype chat a few weeks ago.  She was in the middle of a big decision, and I immediately recognized the familiar angst-ridden expression on her face.  When I told her that she could decide not to decide, I saw levity wash across her face instantly.  Here’s what she jotted down after our conversation:

  • I focus on what *I* want, and once that is clear, I use that to inform my decision
  • I do what feels good
  • I take my time in making my decisions (i.e. I beat to my own ‘time’ drum!)
  • If making a decision right now doesn’t feel good, I do not make a decision
  • I listen closely to the voice that tells me what I want and I treasure and respect what it says

There’s a saying making the self-help rounds recently: that indecision is a form of self-abuse.  I disagree.  Not deciding is your heart telling you it’s not time yet, or that the options aren’t right.  “Decision making” is all in your head; and it’s bound to give you a headache.  Give up thinking you “should” decide, and your heart will irrevocably guide you to what you’ll really love.

my speech story: the curse and the “cure”

Me at age 4, before speaking became a big deal

Me at age 4, before speaking became a big deal

For a person who stutters, few things are more terrifying than a microphone.

Think stage fright coupled with someone holding a gun to your head, plus the feeling you get when you dream you’ve left the house naked.  Then multiply that by ten.

I know, because I’ve lived with stuttering for as long as I’ve talked.  But I’ve managed to manage my speech to the point where you’d probably never guess I’m any different from you.  I’ve also taken great pains to hide my stutter, only revealing it to a handful of people – until now.  Thanks to The King’s Speech, stuttering is suddenly fashionable.  But living with it isn’t always pretty.

Nobody knows exactly why some of us stutter.  Some say that stuttering is a neurological malfunction, and that our brains are structurally different.  It also seems to run in families.  Like Lionel Logue, the King’s speech “therapist” played by Geoffrey Rush, I believe that stuttering is actually a social disorder.  Those of us who stutter usually have no problem when speaking with children, pets, and to ourselves.  It’s the significance of the interaction in which speaking plays a part that makes all the difference – the higher the stakes, the higher the anxiety, and the higher the potential to “block” on a sound. But when talking with kids, Rover, or nobody at all, stress levels are low and so is the possibility for messing up.

The Two Flavors of Stuttering

When you hear the word “stuttering,” you probably think of someone who does so very badly – someone who repeats the first sound of a word almost endlessly, employs facial contortions when they get stuck, and makes you feel uncomfortable.  This type of stuttering is known as “overt stuttering,” meaning the person’s impediment is unmistakable and is present in almost all their speech.  The King’s Speech did not portray stuttering in this way.  If it had been true to the plight of those with an overt stutter, it would have been unbearable to watch.

In my case, I have what is known as a covert – or internalized – stutter.  This is what happens when you try to keep stuttering a secret, and doing so involves all sorts of mental acrobatics:  scanning words ahead of time so as to avoid – and replace – those that, from experience, will cause me problems.  For instance, I have particular trouble with words beginning with the sound “eh,” so something like “Elizabeth” would be difficult to say and would produce anxiety for me.   Instead, I’d substitute “The Queen” or even “Queen Elizabeth,” since placing another sound before the feared word somehow tricks my brain into thinking I can say it.

This is, interestingly, easier said than done and depends on the context of the situation.  If I were talking to one of my friends about the Queen, I’d likely have little trouble with the word, and the rest of my speech would also be fairly fluent.  I’d feel relaxed.  But if I had to stand up in front of a massive audience and deliver a speech about Her Royal Highness, it would be akin to torture.

On the Tip of My Tongue

The closest I’ve come to this so far happened while I lived in London and was invited to appear on television to talk about my old blog.  It was both a dream come true and a nightmare, and the only way around it was to memorize everything I was going to say – carefully avoiding the words I couldn’t.  If you watch the clip with this in mind, you’ll see what I mean.  Ironically, I loved being on camera and was quite disappointed that my phone wasn’t ringing off the hook with producers offering me my own show, although hearing myself stumble still makes me cringe.

If you want to see another example of what this internal run-around looks and sounds like, check out Joe Biden trying to avoid saying “Avatar.” The fact that he manages to get it out a little later in the clip only serves to illustrate that stuttering has a mind of its own, sneaking up on us and taunting us with its elusiveness – no matter how smart and able we are.

When I was a kid, stuttering was no big deal, and I was told I’d grow out of it.  I also heard all the things in The King’s Speech – “Slow down!” being the most popular, “What, you don’t know your own name?” being the worst when I couldn’t introduce myself. At some point, I stopped being able to answer the phone; an invisible force would snatch the word out of my throat, and silence would hang in the air before the caller would either hang up or say something first.

Testing, Testing, 1,2,3

As I got into my teens, hyper awareness kicked in.  I started concocting more elaborate (though I’d never say that word out loud) ways around my problem.  I’d have a tape recorder stashed away in which I’d recorded myself saying “hello.”  It was continuously set on pause, so that when I picked up the phone, I’d simply hit “play.”  Sometimes the recorder would misfire or I got the timing wrong, but I don’t think anyone caught on. To this day, I’m not sure my mother even knows about it.  Well, she does now.

Then there was the worry that I would grow up and fall in love with a man whose name I couldn’t say.  Heaven forbid it was Elliot, Eric, or Ernesto (Enrique, for some reason, would have been okay.)  While other girls imagined their wedding-day kiss, I pictured myself unable to get through the vows.

Stuttering felt like a lonely curse, but eventually I realized I was far from alone.  By the time I got to college, I was old enough to have had enough and to want to do something about it.  I went to the library and checked out everything I could on the topic (we still did that in those days, and I’m only 36.)  I started to believe that I could retrain my vocal chords and teach myself a new way of breathing – namely, always speaking on the exhale.

In Good Company

I also discovered that other people had a bunch of tricks up their sleeves – tapping their foot on the floor to get a word out, using singsong speech to link words together, adopting fake or breathy accents.  I felt quite buoyed when I learned of my famous stuttering counterparts: Winston Churchill, Marilyn Monroe, John Stossel.  And trust me, nobody was happier about the invention of email than those of us who stutter.  Notice I never say “stutterer,” because stuttering does not define us.  To draw inspiration from JFK:  we are not stuttering people; we are people who happen also to stutter.”

Therapy was as frustrating for me as it was for King George VI.  I tried a few sessions with a speech pathologist in my early 20s, never to return again.  Meanwhile, my cunning word substitution became so refined that I was able to speak more and more fluently, and this in turn had the welcome effect of making me more confident in my speech so that I ultimately reintroduced the words that had caused me so much difficulty before.  At the same time, my vocabulary kept expanding exponentially, and I discovered that I could say anything I wanted to – in print.

So I became an English major and then a writer, finding redemption on the page.  I’m obsessed with words.  To me, they are clay; I get a particular thrill out of choosing them, twisting them, and making them submit to me rather than the other way around. My propensity for slicing and dicing speech is a double-edged sword when it comes to writing, and it is interminable – more than once have I needed to get out of bed to fix a single word in whatever I am working on at the moment, just because I can.  Every time, it’s a little victory over all the other times I had to settle for something other than what I meant to speak. Writing is where I can really be me.

Still, the old stuttering anxiety never died, and I carried the stigma with me every single day – shunning speaking engagements and shuddering at the idea of introducing myself to a room full of strangers.

Liberation At Last

It wasn’t until last year that I realized how far I’d actually come.  Still convinced I had a serious speech impediment, I registered for an intensive three-day course called “The McGuire Program.”  Taught entirely by people who stutter, McGuire felt like my last resort.  And, ultimately, it was.  On day one, I was completely humbled when I met the other students on the course – people who could barely speak a sentence.  To both my relief and chagrin, I was more fluent than ever; it was as if I had gone to the doctor only to have the pain go away the minute I stepped foot in his office.  The others were at once amazed by me and doubted me, telling me that I was making it up, that I was an imposter.  They wanted to know my “tricks.” I tried to convince them that my stuttering was pulling a fast one on me – playing hide and seek only to sneak up again on me later.

I dropped out on day two, not because the course wasn’t worthwhile or the other students weren’t inspiring – they were.  I left because, for the first time, I realized that the way I thought about my stuttering – and not the stuttering – was the real problem. I had put such suffocating pressure on myself to have perfect speech, never noticing that even fluent speakers speak imperfectly.  On the bus home, I marveled at the prison I had created for myself; and I alone knew the way out.  I felt incredibly liberated.

I still consider myself a person who stutters, and I’ve yet to give a formal speech; but my stuttering no longer reigns over me the way it used to.  Where once it sat on the throne I’d built for it – looming over me like a dictator – I now lead it firmly yet gently, as a good leader would.

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the queen’s head english

Coming back to New York after 6+ years in London, there are two things that are conspicuously absent:  a pub on every corner (often with some variation on “The Queen’s Head”), and certain vocabulary.

Proper:  Very useful, except when it’s not.  Ponder this tagline for Byron, a UK restaurant chain:  “Proper Hamburgers”.  Tell me, what is an improper hamburger?

Set off:  Head off, get going, go.  As in, “When do you plan to set off?”  Often receives perplexed looks Stateside.

GP:  General Practitioner, or exhausted primary-care physician you may never see again.

Would do, could do, should do:  My biggest pet peeve.  Frequently used in response to questions.  Such as, “You really should have a proper meal after all those pints you had last night.”  Answer: “Yes, I should do.”

Whereabouts:  Great one.  “Whereabouts in the city can I get proper fish and chips?”

Curry:  Insanely delicious and greasy Indian food.  “After all those pints we just had, why don’t we go for a curry.”

Knackered:  “I can barely keep my eyes open; I am so knackered.”

Sort it out:  Figure it out.  “We’ll leave it to you peeps to sort it out.”

A half: Half pint.  Pronounced “hawlf”.  “What, you’re only going to have a half cider?  Come on, this round’s on me.”

Fit:  Hot.  “James Franco is really fit!”  Wouldn’t you agree?

Hire:  Rent.  You hire a car in the UK, which made me a little nervous at first thinking I was going to have to shell out for a chauffeur.

Fancy:  Somewhere between like and lust lies fancy.  “Yes, he acted like a complete twat, but I still fancy the pants off him.”  Three for the price of one there.

Bits:  Parts of your body. This one really got me at first, and it still makes me cringe.  You’ll often see it in suncream (read: sunscreen) ads: “Cover up your most delicate bits.”  Hmm.

Cheeky:  Extremely useful and polite expression when referring to someone who is being either a little too clever or out of line.  “Russell Brand is such a cheeky &%^£!”

XXX:  Not what you think.  Sign off for texts and emails equivalent to the American XOXO.  The number of Xs is of supreme importance.  “Uh-oh, he only put one X at the end of his text.  Whatever do you think it means?”