Amy Reardon wrote a personal essay about her stuttering that can help illuminate the world of other stutterers—including one she invokes: John Updike.
In an essay called “Stuck” written for Culture.org’s “The Believer Logger,” Reardon begins by describing a moment of verbal paralysis that strikes her in a business setting at the age of 29.
Reardon continues, “John Updike attributed his stuttering to a ‘deep doubt’ in the ‘dead center of one’s being.’ In his memoir Self-Consciousness, he elaborated, ‘It happens when I feel myself in a false position.’ Updike listed all the situations that made him stutter. When he felt ‘in the wrong.’ When he was with ‘people of evident refinement or distinction.’ In the presence of law enforcement. In the company of men. And last, total heartbreak, what happened to his ability to speak to his children when he divorced their mother and moved away. He’d always been fluent with them before, he wrote, but now, ‘their cheerful unblaming voices over the phone… summoned into my presence now by appointment and invitation, put a stopper in my throat.’”
Reardon talks about two types of stutterers—”baby” stutterers who are repeaters, and those who are “so pained by our struggle that we swallow the repetition and fight silently. When I’m blocked, my lips are sealed, trembling from the pressure inside. This creates long, awkward silences.”
Later, Reardon returns to Updike in describing an interview opportunity with a legendary comedian: “I prepared my questions, pulled my best reporter buddy into the one office at the paper with a phone and dialed. My old enemy loomed. I started bravely because I never know if the words will pass, and often they do. But feeling unworthy in the face of celebrity (remember Updike’s false position) my throat seized wildly. By question three, I could not squeeze out a word. I handed the phone to my friend and pointed to my notebook. She read the questions into the phone, and together we listened, one ear each at the receiver while I took notes. After it was over, we giggled. We both got to interview Bob Hope, and he never noticed. Yay.”