About the Author:
Madeline Wahl is a writer and editor. Her writing has been published in Reader’s Digest, HuffPost, The Stuttering Foundation, The Mighty, and McSweeney’s, among others. You can learn more and reach out to her on her website.
Over the years on my journey with stuttering, I’ve written about my personal experiences with stuttering on a variety of topics from what it feels like for me to stutter alongside why I’m thankful to be a person who stutters. Recently, I expanded on my own writing and dove into photography and other artistic ways of expressing my thoughts as a person who stutters. I hope that more people who stutter feel compelled to share their story in whichever way they so choose, via personal essays with the written word, in songs and music, as paint on canvas, or in their own photography projects as well. People who stutter shouldn’t have to hide behind their stutter if they want to express themselves. Instead, taking the courageous step forward to creatively expressing themselves might just be the way to help more people who stutter connect, not only with themselves, but within the greater stuttering community and the rest of the world.
For most of my life, I expressed my thoughts on stuttering with the spoken word. In my mid-twenties, I began writing personal essays about stuttering. And then, in my early thirties, I started experimenting with words alongside photography in my photo series Physical Body: Invisible Stutter, with photography by Zoë Lintzeris and published with The Stuttering Foundation.
I never realized that stuttering could be expressed as an art form, because I never realized that stuttering is an art form. Stuttering doesn’t need to be portrayed so negatively like it so often is in movies, television shows, and the media. Stuttering is a speech disorder; it’s not a negative character flaw. I created the photo series to showcase the positive aspects of stuttering often ignored in everyday conversation. Stuttering doesn’t need to be divisive. Instead, it can bring people together. This is a stuttering community, after all.
Whenever I would have an idea for a new personal essay or a photography series, I would wonder: Is this too much? Is this too personal? Am I the right person to express this? In the end, the acknowledgment came that the only thing holding me back was fear. I worried about what other people would think, and I worried about my place as a person who stutters within the stuttering community.
Growing up, I never talked about stuttering. I thought it was something that had to remain hidden in the depths of who I was as a person, never to rise up and see the light of day. I never wanted to talk about the words which emerged elongated or broken up into syllabic pieces in conversations. I would ignore each and every stutter and hope that the other person would do the same. I thought that by ignoring my stutter, other people would, too.
Now, however, I’ve broken free from those restrictive thoughts, tossed the shackles of fluent conversation away, and have instead welcomed my stutter home. The more I wrote about stuttering, the more I set my words free. The more I got to know and became friends with people who stuttered, and the more conversations I had where I stuttered openly and freely, the more at peace and at home I felt. The more I creatively expressed my experiences with stuttering through various mediums, the more I soared toward the sky and defrosted any stagnant and outdated ideas that had taken hold within. The iceberg of shame, anger, and fear slowly thawed. I now continue to share the most vulnerable parts of myself out into the world.
I experimented with creative expression by working with a photographer and I’ve realized that for me, this is only the beginning of honing my voice. I have found such creative freedom by first working with words in writing and then expanding to include photographs. What will the next medium be? Using oil on canvas to showcase stuttering as an impressionist painting? Designing clothes with stuttering emblazoned on the front in various fonts and fragments? Playing staccato sounds and rhythms on wind instruments?
Stuttering can be expressed creatively not only in books, television shows, and movies, but also in paintings, drawings, murals, photography projects, music, and so much more. Through creating, I have learned there is no limit to what you can create as a person who stutters. I truly hope to see more creative works by people who stutter. The world is your creative oyster.
I’ve come to realize that each person’s stutter, just like their personality, is unique. I believe that if a person who stutters has an idea for a creative project, painting, canvas, song, or any other expressive art, then it needs to be created. The world thrives on creativity. It’s time for people who stutter to express their ideas in whichever way they so choose. The time to create is now.
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