Out With It: My chameleon book

Out With It started off as a dream, a vague idea of finding myself in the voices of others. To face myself, to spend a year immersed in the subject I had spent a lifetime running away from.

As I started researching I got drawn into 100 lives across America. I spent a year as ‘the interviewer’. I listened to people’s lives, sat in their living rooms, drank their coffee and met their families. I became enchanted by each of them. What made them tick, where did they take their strength from, what worked for them, how did the rest of the world react to them?

I replayed their voices back as I transcribed their words, listened for the intonation in their voices. With my headphones on, blocking out the rest of the world, I was captivated by the variety of their stutterers, the specific cadence of each voice, their unique rhythm.

When I started writing Out With It I wanted to include all of the people I had met. Painfully I narrowed them down to a handful. My picks were neither the best nor the worst. They were just the ones I chose. The book that I wrote was a dedication to all 100 of them.

But it didn’t quite work. The characters didn’t stand out enough. The format of walking into someone’s home, or meeting in a coffee shop or even meeting on the street, started to sound repetitive. I was still hiding behind the stance of ‘the reporter’.

I had spent a year finding out about all these individuals. But, as different as we were, meeting each of them was like looking in a antique mirror. There were pieces where the reflection was dulled, where we didn’t reflect each other so clearly. But we had all worn the same shoes and any differences broadened my understanding, opening my eyes to pieces I hadn’t seen or known before.

What began as a book of oral histories morphed into a memoir. The writing was much more riddled with self-doubt and yet it was honest and vulnerable and I hopefed it would be compelling.

If I’m honest, I probably came to America searching for a cure. Not surprisingly that didn’t go so well but the book is about finding so much more than that. It is about the struggle we all make to accept ourselves as perfectly imperfect.

Struggle to write Out With It

Image courtesy of Don Moyer

Frugal Living: Limbering up for the extreme sport of penny pinching

An article I wrote recently went ‘viral’. I have yet to decipher the magical workings of freelance writing but somehow over 1000 people decided to comment on the piece. A couple weeks ago I would have thought the subject for such heated debate would have to be war, or health or even the sad story of Rupert Murdock. No no, 1000 people decided to voice their opinion on the controversial subject of ‘Extreme Couponing’.

frugal living

You may ask yourself what extreme couponing is all about. A month ago I had no idea. The title arrived from my editor who clearly feels that penniless writer = frugal living expert. Fair enough but I was sadly in the dark on the subject of extreme couponing.

After a foray into the world of TLC reality programming and some internet research on the subject, I quickly realized that serious couponing translated to penny pinching as an extreme sport.

The experts are not haphazardly cutting coupons from the Sunday papers. No, this is an organized, cross-referenced art form. In the spirit of research I looked into internet coupons, newspaper cut-outs and supermarket handouts. Laziness quickly overtook my impulse to save and I realized that it takes a stronger resolve than mine to make a go of it. I’m competitive by nature but I know which battles I can win and I know I would quickly be put to shame by the televised image of a women buying a shopping trolley full of goods for a handful of nickels and dimes.

I think my failure to really embrace the joy of extreme couponing may also have something to do with the fact that I live in New York. Despite the fact that I live in one of the most expensive cities in America, New York living does not translate well to dedicated coupon cutting. I bike to our local supermarket and our pint-sized apartment is not well equipped to handle bulk purchases of any kind.

So extreme couponing may not offer the way forward for frugal living in the city that never sleeps but there are other ways to live the NY high life on a shoestring:

1) Finding a great apartment. Don’t be shy. The topic of rent is as synonymous with New York as chat of the weather is in London. Tell everyone what you want and ignore anyone who tells you it can’t be done. Ask around…who has a rent stabilized apartment, how much are your friends paying, does anyone know someone with a great apartment who is moving out? Give yourself the time for the proper hunt, it may take a while.

2) Eating. I love eating out and we treat ourselves more often than we should but I will chuck my chopstick at the next person who tells me that eating out is as cheap as eating at home in the city. If it is then I want them to tell me which restaurant they eat at and where on earth they do their food shopping.

3) Partying. Embrace happy hours and free events in the city. In the summer, something fabulously free is happening every day of the week and you can always mingle with the after work crew or the late night stoop-outs for some cheap off-peak drinking.

4) More eating. If you have a hardy stomach and a penchant for meat and rice, street vendors are your ‘go to’ in the city. Look for the ones with high turnover and long lines. If you are close to Union Square skip the lines at Whole Paycheck and pay a visit to the guy with the big smile on 14th and 3rd.

5) Getting around. Dust off your old bike. It may be steamy and hot in the city but you will arrive at your destinations ‘glowing’ and basking in the knowledge that you have saved money on either subway riding or taxis. Just watch out for those pesky car doors, keep your biking excursions to under a few miles if possible and pack deodorant or an extra top for those 90 degree days.

For all the same reasons that I failed at extreme couponing, I regularly fail at living as frugally as I would like. Finally I have realized that it is a balance and all the mea culpas are unnecessary. Saving here and there makes spending the money when we want to all that much more of a treat.

In that vein I am off to ride my bike to our favorite seltzer and breakfast spot in Brooklyn. More on that next time…

What do you want to be when you grow up?

A writer.

The answer was always a writer.

Today is a sort national holiday for writers worldwide. It is Bloomsday and a fine day to reflect on a career that has always held a fascination for me.

As a child, I envisioned an older version of myself in a house in the hills of Italy, writing my ink-stained manuscripts by day and cooking meals with friends every night. Small details never hindered my imagination. My lack of fluency in Italian was never an issue to my invented friends, I was never lonely, money rarely entered my thoughts. I certainly never had to deal with any sort of rejection.

In reality, making it as a writer is very different. It is not always easy, it can be painful, it is full of rejection and I am often racked by self-doubt. It is not the idyll that I had in my mind’s eye.

And yet I have to admit, with James Joyce on my mind, that writing is wonderful. When the blank page gives way to words that flow or sentences speak beyond their distinct outlines. When an article comes together, when a chapter of my book sits proudly on my desk, or when I feel I have eloquently described my chaotic inner monologue. Writing is a drug. An addiction that drives you through the low points and pummels you towards something worthwhile.

Today I am a writer, a public speaker and the Creative Director of a young business (www.ExchangeMyPhone.com). I could have never dreamed up that long-winded title as a naïve adolescent. I would have never imagined that my dream to be a writer would have taken me around America, would have introduced me to a new world, would have landed me in New York starting a business with someone I love.

My real life, and my hybrid career, works. In reality, the house in Italy would be lonely. I would miss the chatter of the big city, the amazing friends and family I have here, the buzzing potential of the start-up world.

In the immortally cool words of the Rolling Stones…

Rolling stones - writing dreams

Bill Withers: Still Cool

It is one of life’s more pesky ironies that I cannot sing. My virtual tone-deafness has always seemed unfair in light of my stutter. Away from the delicate ears of others, I have been known to belt out the odd 80s classic in the shower and I have never once stuttered. In fact, of all the stutterers I have met, I have yet to hear about one person who stutters whilst singing. Grabbing on to this little factoid a surprising number of people have suggested that I turn my daily conversations into a real life musical. No doubt I would be completely fluent singing away in my padded cell.

Stuttering singers span the breath of music history from Carly Simon to Mel Tillis and Gareth Gates (for those of you Brits who were teenagers back in 2002 and remember the early novelty of Pop Idol). But there is no stuttering singer as quintessentially cool as Bill Withers. I remember thinking that when I interviewed him back in 2009 for my book on stuttering and I felt that again last night when I stumbled on the recent documentary ‘Still Bill’ in my Netflix account.

bill withers

“Some people are born cool”, he observes in his trademark rolling voice. It seems like he must be talking about himself until he cracks a smile and carries on, “I was an asthmatic stutterer from Slab Fork, West Virginia.” His playful wit establishes from the beginning that this is a rare musician’s documentary. There are no fawning crowds, no crumbling rock and roll hedonism. Rather we are given a picture of Bill’s daily life as he spends time with his family, records music with his daughter, shoots the breeze with friends and celebrates his 70th birthday.

We are shown a humble man who chose to walk away from fame for a quiet life, and is happy that he did. As he tells his kids, “It’s OK to head out for Wonderful, but on your way to Wonderful you’re gonna have to pass through All Right. And when you get to All Right, take a good look round and get used to it because that maybe is as far as you’re gonna go.” Is he talking about himself? It seems hard to believe but the line reminded me of something he said when I interviewed him years ago. I had been sitting with him in his wife’s office for almost two hours when he got a call from Simply Red’s management asking him to come as a VIP to his next show. His surprise morphed into gratitude and, when I asked him if that kind of thing happened all the time, he laughed, “No sugar, most people think I’m dead these days or too old to walk over there.”

Both in the documentary and in person you can see only a hint of Bill’s lifelong stutter. It is so slight as to be barely noticeable but there is a strong feeling that this seemingly minor challenge has shaped his life. He comes across as a deeply emotional man and we see him quietly cry twice in the film. Once from fatherly pride and once as he talks to a group of children that make up Our Time’s theatre group for kids who stutter. Intimately indentifying with them, he observes that stuttering can make other people nervous and says, “We have to go just that little bit further to help them feel at ease.”

Bill seems like a man that treads softly and makes a big noise. The film is peppered with wise, unscripted words. It is about a man who knows who he is. He’s still the same guy he was growing up in Slab Fork, he is still the guy he was when he started his family and he is still a stutterer.

If you missed it, you can always catch it on Netflix here.


Stuttering as a woman and what I really feel about it

I am an English woman who has recently moved to Brooklyn, New York, with my boyfriend. I have stuttered for most of my life and am currently writing a book on the myth of normalcy and what it means to stutter. I have started this blog to document some funny, challenging and downright absurd moments that chronicle my daily life speaking and writing.

I am constantly amazed by the beauty and changeable nature of speech and the unique ways that we all see our voices. Having spent two years immersing myself in stuttering I have realized that the more I find out the less I know and the more I want to learn. I am fascinated by the experiences of others and the constant developments in what other people are thinking about this enigmatic condition. Any posts I write are open invitations to hear from others. Feel free to tell me any of your thoughts and email me anytime you want to get in touch.

This is my first foray into the world of blogging so watch this space to see how it evolves. I look forward to adding interviews, videos and pictures in the not-to-distant future. I am learning quickly but I currently have the tech credentials of a 3 year old.