30 Years

They met in the Yemen. Of all places. My mum was on holiday and my dad was working out there. I’ve heard the tale enough times that it took on an Arabian Nights quality long ago. There were years of long distance love letters to follow, a year in Greece and a life to start again. Then, on March 22nd 1984, they got married in London’s Chelsea Town Hall. They celebrated over lunch with all the friends and family that could make it and drove back to their new home that night. 3 weeks later I arrived.

I’ve always thought of us as the three musketeers, the three of us taking on the world. But today is all about the two of them. I wish I was celebrating with them but instead I’ve raided my photo albums as a toast to my two favourite people…

With parents age 5





IMG_0250Folk music always makes me think of my dad, of the toddler version of myself watching him strum his guitar strings, and there’s a Simon and Garfunkel song playing in the background this morning, “Still crazy after all these years”. Perfect timing, as always.

How David and Goliath redefines the underdog

“Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through tough times & you discover they aren’t so tough after all”, writes Malcolm Gladwell in his latest book David and Goliath.

David and goliath
Today is International Stuttering Awareness Day, a day when those words, and Gladwell’s new book, are well worth exploring.

David and Goliath argues that for the strong, “the same qualities that appear to give them strength are often sources of great weakness,” whereas for the weak, “the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty.”

It is an attractive idea (one I believe in wholeheartedly) and the most intriguing piece of the book focuses on the theory of “desirable difficulty.” Gladwell argues that people have the potential to succeed not in spite, but because of their disorders. That they can learn something in their struggle that proves to be an enormous advantage.

As an example of desirable difficulty, Gladwell highlights a man called David Boies. Boies is dyslexic and he went from being a construction worker to “one of the most famous trial lawyers in the world.” Whether or not it is true, Boies attributes his success to the ways his dyslexia forced him to adapt. Because he found it hard to read, he became a phenomenal listener. Because of his need to simplify issues to their basic components, he presents a case that every juror can easily understand. For all of its difficulty, his limitation has fostered certain great strengths.

It is an idea that I have heard over and over in the stuttering community – the idea that stuttering has the potential to make us more empathetic, more humble, more resilient, more driven to succeed. I know that, in my own life, stuttering has forged an obsession with the rhythm and complexities of language that makes me the writer I am.

And yet, beyond those qualities, David and Goliath introduces another, somewhat unexpected, strength: the willingness to be disagreeable, to exhibit a lack of concern for social norms. We need to play by own rules in order to succeed.

It reminds me of the joke about a stutterer who applies for a job as a bible salesman. His would-be bosses are sceptical so they give him a challenge. They give him 20 bibles, more than their best salesmen sell in a day, and ask him to try and sell as many any possible in an hour. He agrees. With one condition. If he sells them all, they must give him the job. They shake hands and he sets off. 30 minutes later he returns empty-handed. Shocked, the bosses give him the job and ask him to tell them his secret. How did he do it? “It was no trouble at all”. He tells them. “Aaaaaaat every h h h h h h house I knocked on the dddddddddd d d d ddoooooor, introduced my my my my my my my my myself and told them that they c        could either buy a bible from m   me or I cccccccc c ccc c c cccccould stand there and rr r r r rrrrrrr r ead it to them.”

However silly the example, it takes a certain amount of courage to be the man in that joke, to own your limitation and work within its strengths. As a society we need people who take that idea one step further, people who have used whatever difficulty they have and turned it into a form of greatness.

We need those people who are courageous by necessity.

Re-imagining the Role of Godparent

A few days ago one of my favourite people asked me to be her son’s godmother.

Our friends are at the age where baby monitors often provide the background noise to dinner parties and apartments are rented with school districts in mind. And yet, somehow, the concept of godparenting had never crossed my mind. It was an enormous honor that I had never expected.

I said yes, quickly and fervently.

And then I spent hours learning about what I had just accepted, about the expectations and guidelines for godparents.

godparent decisionsI’m not an atheist but I’d be hard-pressed to call myself deeply religious. If I was supposed to serve as a spiritual guarantor for the little guy I wasn’t sure what kind of spirituality I was guaranteeing.

And yet the idea of being such a big part of my friend’s family, and playing a role in her son’s life, had enormous appeal. So I started to look for secular inspiration.

From folklore to pop culture, there were Cinderella-style fairy godmothers who saw inherent charms in their charges and gun wielding Godfathers who embodied protection.

From my own life, I was lucky enough to have two godparents and one godfather. My parents enlisted friends from different parts of their lives and divvied up the duties – one godmother taught me how to laugh through struggles, another taught me the importance of loyalty and my godfather taught me to live by my own rules. We have spent Christmases and birthdays and New Year’s Eves together. I’ve seen them dance and cry. I’ve always felt like they were part of my family.

Yet they aren’t parental. That’s not the role that anyone expects of them. Rather they offer a unique, familial friendship.

And that’s something I think I can offer to my friend’s son. I may not always be in the same country as him. I may not be able to give him large gifts of money. I may still be working out all the questions he wants answers to. But I know how to be a good friend. 

So the ground rules I’m setting for myself are to be the type of friend to him that I am to his mum. To make memories with him, to remember things that are important to him, to laugh with him and listen to him, to always watch out for him.

To quote Don Corleone, arguably the most infamous godparent, “Friendship is everything. Friendship is more than talent. It is more than the government. It is almost the equal of family.”

To see more of my Psychology Today articles go to: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/out-it


I spend most of my days thinking and writing about talking. Today more than most perhaps. Today is the last day of National Stuttering Awareness Week.

stuttering awareness week

On the subway, I watch a father tell quiet stories to his daughter, her fingers twisting around his, her legs kicking her brother next to her as he leans towards them to catch every word.

As I wait for a friend to arrive for coffee I watch two women snorting with laughter, their arms gesticulating, their knees leaning in to one another, their glasses raised and lowered as they listen for the start of some new joke in a language I can’t decipher.

I see a couple sitting next to each other, reading the paper. Swapping sections, pointing at a story, passing a cup of coffee, all without a word.

In my own conversations, I feel myself relax into a laughter-filled Skype call with an old friend. I feel the way our cadence begins to morph and mirror each other, the way we slide into old jokes that take me back to house-parties and lazy dinners.

I feel the pinpricks of nerves in my fingertips as I sit on a high stool and look into the kind, open-eyes of an interviewer, the heat of the lights and the dark presence of camera lens crowding us. I feel sweat break out in miniature beads on my forehead and feel my voice break into the silence between us. In my head, I hear my friend Michelle encouraging me to make believe that the cameras aren’t there, that I’m just having a chat with this lovely woman, as you do, on a high chair, in a bookstore, with everyone watching.

I look down at my champagne flute and take my last sip as I look out at an audience I can barely see. I tell myself, for the hundredth time that I should wear glasses for my book signings, so I can see the people beyond the first row. I shift my weight and feel my hands begin their familiar propulsion as I tell everyone the end of my story. I look at Jeremy, at the grin on his face, as I tell the eager mass of an audience some of our love story. I lean into the warmth of their generous laughter, I feel it release something in me. I carry on speaking, and stuttering, and gratefully answering their questions. I lean against the bar and try to burn the moment on to my memory.

At home I write about stuttering, about the visceral experience of talking. I enjoy the quiet, the calming sound of the controlled voice in my head, the ability to escape into the realm of my own mind for a while. Then I feel the silence of the room weigh on me and pick up the phone, I walk outside and talk about the weather with a neighbour. I get home and I read this story. I laugh at all the familiar fears and all the familiar reactions. I feel proud to be connected to this man, if only tenuously through our speech.

We speak to others to tell them that we love them, to make ourselves heard, to learn from each other or to meet another’s mind. Each of us has a distinct voice, a unique way of reaching out and connecting with the world. Today is as good a time as any to remember how beautiful that is.

What to hope for?

As I type this my twitter feed is ticking in front of me, telling me that the boat is surrounded, that the man thought to be one of the Boston marathon bombers, is about to be caught. They have him. He’s alive. The suspect is in custody.

My feed has gone quiet now. What next? What now do we hope will unfold?

In the rush of silence I think of all the horror and heroism of the past week. Of all the ways that people felt fragile and vulnerable and frightened. All of the ways people mentioned how grateful they felt for their loved ones, how tightly they held on to one another.

It has been a long week, we’re all looking for a silver lining.

It seems like a strange time to be celebrating, and yet, on Tuesday night I had a chance to do just that. I was lucky enough to get to be around a lot of people I love. I got to laugh with them, and hug them and thank them for all the ways they changed my life. On Tuesday, April 16th, I had the book launch for Out With It.


It was a night of hours that skidded by too fast. It was gilded, better than I could have ever imagined. There was a billboard in Times Square and a sold out bookstore. It was a night made memorable for all the right reasons.

FB - Crowd at BookCourt

Now, in the aftermath of everything, I think about all the outcomes that we look towards. In the face of disappointments and disasters, what kind of recovery do we hope for?

In the wake of celebration, what then do we hope will happen?

A small part of me gets to hope for big dreams, for Out With It to change the conversation around perfection and normalcy. A much bigger part of me just hopes that a few people read it. I wonder what people will think of it, what they will think of me.

In the aftermath of everything I feel immensely vulnerable. I feel fragile knowing that my book, this thing I looked at in the privacy of my home for almost 5 years, is now out in the world waiting to be judged.

I hope that people like it. I hope I don’t look like a fool. I hope that it does some good to as many people as possible. I hope that the joy I felt on Tuesday will carry me through whatever challenging times, and wonderful times, lie ahead. Looking around an apartment full of cards, and flowers and notes from people I love, I hope that I will always feel as grateful as I do tonight.


Where language leads

When I was little Easter was my favourite time of year.

It was a time of hot cross buns, enough chocolate to send me into a sugar coma and puddles large enough to jump into with my wellies. It was the moment when winter seemed to be disappearing and I could celebrate my birthday with the knowledge that the long summer holiday wasn’t too far away.

For the first 8 years of my life, it was also a time for easter egg hunts at my grandma’s house. Amid the blooming bluebells and daffodils of her garden, my grandma would hide riddle after riddle. As soon as we arrived, my parents and I would be handed the first clue and we’d rush out to the garden to find the next. As we uncovered each new riddle from the dirt we’d read them loud enough for my grandma to hear as she watched us, smiling from the chair of her sitting room.

I wish that I’d stashed these small, handwritten notes in my pocket. At the time they seemed like a ticket into a very adult world of hidden meanings. They were my first introduction to the beauty and malleability of language.

I remember my mum laughing, my dad running across the garden and their gentle hints as they guided me towards the final chocolate egg. I remember scarfing down the creamy chocolate sitting on her kitchen counter as my grandma carefully laid the crust over her apple pie.

I haven’t been to an easter egg hunt in years, I can’t remember any since my grandma died. But the memory of the excitement I felt holding my her handwriting, my awareness of the hours she put into creating each riddle, hasn’t left me.

These days my traditions have changed. I still get the puddles and the hot cross buns, but I have new things like Passover and my fiancé’s birthday. Still I feel like I am carrying on some family tradition, I feel like all those riddles, all that love of language, has lead me somewhere that I could have only dreamed of a child.

This year I get to celebrate the release of my book. Coincidentally the pub date is my birthday so we will be kicking off spring with a big party. Sadly there won’t be any riddles or chocolate eggs, but I’d love you to come and celebrate with me nevertheless.

Vulnerability and Public Speaking

I’m not sure who would constitute my most intimidating audience, but speaking to a roomful of over 100 Brooklyn hipsters ranks pretty highly.

Public Speaking - PPN

Image courtesy: Andy Gillette and PPN

It is hard to be as fascinating as the guy who speaks for 15 minutes about Peruvian Ayahuasca and ends his sincere talk with an impromptu song inspired by the plant he spent a month talking to. Or the scantily-clad Meta-Physical Jesus, or the man who recounts a story about a possessed Raggedy Anne doll.

It is hard to stand up without any persona, or any shield.

By the time I walked up to take the stage at Bushwick’s monthly speaking series, Presentation Party Night, beer cans were spilling out of the rubbish bins, the room was debating the meaning of virtuous womanhood and I was fully aware of the involuntary shaking that had taken over my left leg.

I was nervous in a way that I haven’t been for a while. Perhaps it was because I was speaking to people who had no idea about stuttering, perhaps it was because I’d left my glasses at home and I could barely see the audience, perhaps I was worried about being vulnerable in front of a bunch of strangers.

Either way I held up the mic to my lips and began to speak into the wide expanse of the room.

Public Speaking at PPNI talked about perfection, about my childhood, about the science of stuttering and the humanity of it. I talked about setting off on a adventure to find a cure and instead falling in love and embracing my ‘weakness’ as my greatest strength.

The hum of the heating-system ebbed and flowed, one guy’s phone rang loudly and the crowd laughed once or twice but largely the place was silent. My voice rumbled and broke into the mic. I slipped into repetitions and fell out of them, I smiled and paused and my leg continued to shake to the beat of its own manic rhythm.

By the end I was spent, I’d given all I could to the speech. It hadn’t been easy but it hadn’t been terrible. It had been honest.

And afterwards, after the cheers and the questions, I have never had so many people come up to me. Each person related my story back to themselves, back to their struggles and their triumphs. They told me about their lives and they asked me more about stuttering. My gratitude to them, to all their joy and compassion, is boundless.

If anyone reading this in NY has a subject that they feel able to speak about for 10 minutes, I can’t recommend PPN enough. Speaking up, making people laugh or cry, encouraging them see the world a little differently – what would you rather be doing on a Sunday night?

Fiercely holding on to joy

Saturday was a strange day. The morning and the evening were wonderful, giggling and telling stories with friends in the city, but the afternoon was quiet and teary. Neither Jeremy or I could get off the sofa. We held hands but didn’t talk much. We both felt useless, drowning quietly in horrific, imagined images.

Newtown has been covered from every perspective, gun regulation and mental disorders have been explored from every angle by every wing of the press. I won’t re-hash their arguments here. Suffice to say the situation has to change, it is not enough to simply grieve, the steady stream of gun violence has to stop. But, in the meantime, it is worth hugging the people we love a little more fiercely, remembering what others have lost and focusing on the joy in our lives.

There’s something about the holidays that, despite the stress of gift-shopping and food prepping and travelling, is inherently joyful: friends hauling a hulking fir tree down the street; Christmas carolers drowning out the crazies on the subway; mince pies baking in the oven; frosty fingers thawing on mugs of hot mulled wine; families telling stories over the crackle of a fire.

This year, despite all the sadness, I have so much to be thankful for: an amazing family, friends I love and a city that really feels like home. This Christmas we are celebrating even more than normal because…

Jeremy proposed!

He asked me while we were away on holiday up in Vermont. After a day spent walking through the evergreens and eating one of the most amazing meals of our life (at this restaurant) Jeremy got down on one knee and asked if I would marry him. I hadn’t realized how over-whelmed I would feel but I managed to get out a yes before he had even slipped the ring on to my finger (between quite a few tears).


So, on Saturday, I held the hand of the man I love and leaned towards all the joy around us and away from all the fear and blame.

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season!

New York After Sandy

Post-apocalyptic, confused, hopeful, supportive, broken – the reactions to New York in the wake of hurricane Sandy have spanned every adjective imaginable.

It depends where you are.

The city is split between those lucky areas that escaped largely unscathed and those areas that are still in darkness, still reeling and clawing back towards normality.

New York post Sandy map

Our realities could not be more different.  We were incredibly lucky to be located in a part of the city that was left almost entirely untouched, save a few downed trees. We kept hot water and electricity and only lost internet and heat for a while.

We’ve had lots of Manhattan friends come to stay for hot showers, a comfy bed, WiFi and lots of home-cooked meals. They’ve come with tales of local neighbors coming together and helping each other out, of restaurants serving customers by candle-light, of grocery stores giving free food to locals, of gyms opening their doors to offer showers. There have been less rosy stories as well – stories of piles of drowned rats, of 4 inches of flooded sewerage in bedrooms, of rotten food, of dark stairwells, of restaurants asking people to pay to charge their cell phones in order to call family and friends.

Darkness in New YorkIt seems as if the storm has brought out the best, and the worst in everyone. In the dark zone, there’s a craziness and a loneliness. Even here, where life carries on much the same, the disorientated city seeps over the water.

Out With It and the Good Life Project

Filming the good life projectHave you ever had that dream where you walk down the road naked? Do you remember the moment you realize that everyone is staring at you in your birthday suit?

Now, imagine that it isn’t a dream. Imagine that, for a moment, the world gets to see you and all your bare humanity. How do you feel?

I feel petrified, or at least that’s how I felt as I stared at my laptop screen 5 days ago, in the wee hours of the morning. Jonathan had sent over advance access to the Good Life Project interview that would be aired in the morning, and I was watching the interview with headphones stuffed into my ears as Jeremy peacefully snored away in the other room.

In the morning, the video would be sent out to Jonathan’s tribe of avid fans and posted for the world to see on YouTube.

I had just gone very, very public with my stutter.

I had no idea how everyone would react. Would they hate it? Would my inbox be filled with vitriol? Would I be laughed at or criticized?

All the negative thoughts were chased by more hopeful ones. Would it comfort some people? Would it start to change the conversation about what is normal, about what it means to stutter? Would it inspire others to be fearless, to embrace whatever vulnerability they were dealing with?

I slept fitfully and woke up feeling hung-over, the image of my own face blocking, repeating and smiling etched into my mind’s eye.

By the time the interview was posted, I had readied myself for every bad reaction I could imagine.

And yet, in the past few days, my fears haven’t been realized. Not even close. Instead, I have been shocked by the messages I received full of nothing but support and gratitude. I have opened incredible emails and messages from strangers, from businessmen and mothers, from friends and people I barely know. I am still in awe of their kindness.

As one of them said, “I can’t imagine how hard it is to have something so personal so public. But I bet it is liberating!”

Liberating is a good word for it. Vulnerable and strong and never cowed. It was how I wanted people to see the book, the pieces that I had been struggling to express in the title.

Just before the video was posted, I heard from my editor. The publisher had given the thumbs up to our title: Out With It: How Stuttering Helped Me Find My Voice.

What do you think?