What Betsy DeVos Needs To Know About Being A Kid With Disabilities

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If you are like me, your head may have exploded watching parts of the DeVos hearings.  I wanted to put a face on what her policies might result so I reflected on my own experience for my Huffington Post blog.  Please share it so people understand that we can’t go backwards in supporting our kids (and adults) with disabilities.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/what-betsy-devos-needs-to-know-about-being-a-kid-with_us_58804453e4b0fb40bf6c46b0?ncid=engmodushpmg00000004

#Devoshearings #dyslexia #learningdisability #education #specialeducation

A Stuttering-Dyslexic Brain Walks Into A Comedy Club: On writing and performing new comedy

NOTE TO READER:  In case you haven’t read my WordPress blog before, this is the raw deal.  I write in my full dyslexic glory without feedback from my regular editor.  It is likely that this will be a draft for another article or possibly one day a book, so please comment.  I would love to hear your differences in how your process speech or what science might say to explain my process.

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It had been awhile since I went hard on comedy.  I started working a full time job and a lot of my energy went into adjusting to my new duties and environment.  Luckily my job was with a college so in my winter break, and with an entering US president who offers so much richness to a Disabled comedian that I decided I needed to hit the open mics.  As my winter break ends I am reminded of the artistic process of doing comedy.  Developing material from the premises to bits, adding tags and experimenting with the intonation and timing of the delivered punchlines.  I am also reminded of how my dyslexia and stuttering interact with this process.  

 

As I stood in front of a small humble audience in Silicon Valley, that would eventually pay $8 for my gas money to drive 40 miles, I could see the juxtaposition of new and old material and how it interacted with my stuttering blocks and repetitions.  Old but trusted material was relatively fluent.  It reminds me of when I was religious affairs student government officer at Saint Joseph Elementary school.  The majority of my role was to saying morning prayer.  When I originally decided to run for the office I knew that the criteria of saying prayers would not be a problem because memorized and automatic scripts can eventually become fluent for me (this is not always the case for all).  I am sure when I was required to memorize certain prayers for my First Communion I may not have been fluent, but over time automaticity of speech takes over and bypasses the stuttering part of the brain.  Apparently my jokes about sexism in comedy and disability discrimination function similarly.  With enough memorization they become automatic and although I might stutter on some of it, I seem quiet fluent.  So fluent in fact that some audience members look confused about my stuttering material, as they did in the Silicon Valley bar for the first 3 minutes of my set.  Then we ventured into my new material and they quickly found out that I did actually stutter.

 

Most things having to do with language are processed on the left side of the brain.  Rhythmic prose seem to be processed from the right side of the brain.  Creating something that is language based and then speaking it tax the left side of the brain.  As a comedian with dyslexia and who stutters, my left brain is on double duty when I write and perform new material.  Knowing what topic pisses me off enough to talk about in front of an audience, figuring out the funny aspects in that topic, writing the setups, developing the punchlines, trying out tags (the extra little something after the punchline), trying out the material, often putting the word that I might stutter on at the end of the punchline, practicing the timing in the car, and finally manifesting this all in speech in front of the audience.  And then, as the shampoo bottle directs, RINSE AND REPEAT.  I do it again and again until I have each step down and it becomes so automatic that it is like saying the Our Father or Hail Mary.  Of course these jokes are far from the holy, but my guess is that they eventually get stored in the same place in my brain.  

 

I wanted to share this for a few reasons.  First of all we either talk about stuttering or dyslexia but there are so many of us that have both of these. It is like we have to chose one of these things as a community.  We rarely talk about their interaction.  I have observed that the more my dyslexia is highlighted in the function I am doing, the more likely I am to stutter.  I don’t know the neurology of how these two things work in tandem, but my guess is that the more my left brain needs to function, then the more my speech areas are exacerbated and the more I stutter.  Again I don’t know if a speech and language pathologist would say the same thing, but I know that this is my own experience of stuttering and how it feels.  

 

Secondly, I wanted to acknowledge the sometimes difficult experience of stuttering.  I almost always write about the discrimination or the social-emotional aspects of our experience.  I see these issues as the crux of the Disability experience.  Why should we be discriminated against because of how we, as dyslexics, process language, or we as people who stutter, express ourselves.  There is no known remedy of either of these aspects of myself, nor do I care about ridding myself of them.  I would love it if people not be assholes, so please work toward that.  Although I am not usually the merry sunshine type, I do like to talk about the positive experiences stuttering and dyslexia can bring like community and self-acceptance.  I usually do not focus on the function of language, in part because I think that is what people expect.  The media often focuses on how difficult it is for us to speak and not how attitudes need to be changed in how others accept our speech as part of neurodiversity.  Additionally, the nuances of speaking from dyslexia and stuttering is often ignored.  It just seems to complicated for the regular inspirational porn we tend to see on either stuttering or dyslexia.    

 

Nonetheless, sometimes after a long day presenting at an all day workshop my jaw hurts (stuttering) and I could forget my husbands name (dyslexia).  It also takes me a really long time to figure out comedy.  I use to get double time for taking tests in college.  For every hour that you took the test, I would have two hours.  I needed time to process what I was being asked and then what I would respond back with.  It feels the same for me in comedy.  In addition to the writing aspects, there is remembering what I want to say.  I also attempt to say it the same way every time, which can be difficult to pinpoint what I feel works and what does not.  I even have someone transcribe some of my better sets so that I can see exactly what language was used.  I then have to see what words I will almost always stutter on and how that might affect my timing.  I then might have to structure my jokes so that timing is more efficient in delivering my message.  I then go and practice the jokes in front of others, because as any person who stutters will tell you, we usually don’t stutter when we are alone.  When I do stutter when I am alone, then I know this stutter will likely be even more exaggerated when I am in front of a crowd.  

 

Are you exhausted yet?  Just thinking about it makes my left brain hemisphere hurt!  

 

The other night at an open mic I started feeling the frustration of my speech which I usually have an incredibly high tolerance for.  I am like a stuttering Zen Master.  I know that repetitions and blocks are going to come and go.  I know that when my stutter is a bit more at times, that it will eventually become less.  I have found that there isn’t anything exactly that I can do for it, I just know it will fluctuate.  My recent surge of energy has brought some frustration though.  Working on my new 8 minutes and word smithing for comedy timing along with stuttering timing, all while having dyslexia finally got the best of me.  How does a stuttering-dyslexic comedian express their frustration?  I ranted and somehow threw Marilyn Monroe under the bus (please forgive me Saint Marilyn!).  

 

To introduce my newest joke I used a feigned exaggerated speech pattern hoping to be more fluent on the word “married.”  Frustrated that I even had to do this, I shouted about the brain and how using a phony voice would help to ensure that the word “married” would come out quicker. I mentioned that Marilyn Monroe used this technique. Of course her double M name took me longer to get out than “married” ever would.  And that’s when I pondered out loud what I had been thinking since I first learned that Monroe stuttered, “why would a person who stuttered give herself a double M name?”  Of course it was not said in that classy kind of way. There may have been a stuttering F-word somewhere in there instead.  You can check out the video below (warning, explicit language and Trump critique at the end).

 

My stuttering got to me this week.  It wasn’t because someone asked me if there was an intrusive brain implant that could cure my speech or say that they could cure me by something they could do to me sexually (yes, I have had both said to me on multiple occasions).  But I also discovered something about stuttering and comedy.  As a comedian I create music.  I know this because the more that my material transfers over to the right side of the brain (which is the hemisphere we sing from), I stutter less.  The lyrics, the rhythm, the timing, the automaticity of the words are what make up comedy and utilized when I am on stage.  Stuttering has helped me understand not only how difficult the chore of comedy can be but also the preciseness of speech.  Wordsmithing punchlines and tags while figuring out why timing works this way but not that way is part of all comedy, stuttering or not.  Many artists look down on comedy as a lesser art form.  I think I just proved that a prolific and talented comedian is creating a symphony, they may be using the 7 dirty words, and working independently might I add, but the result is no less great.  I don’t know if there are functional MRIs that show the different parts of the brain in creating comedy and delivering it, but my guess the whole brain is lighting up.  I am just lucky enough to be the one who shows people at a late night comedy show how it all functions.  

Watch the video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ks1tea2JXF4

 

Nina G Uses Humor to Talk About Dyslexia

Check out my video and interview with Understood.org.  Play the video or read the transcript here!

[Interview]

NINA G.: My name is Nina G., and I live in Oakland, California. I am a comedian and professional speaker, as well as an author and disability advocate.

[At Brainwash Comedy Club]

TONY SPARKS: I need you to lose your mind…for Nina G.!

[applause, cheers]

NINA: Thank you.

TONY: Come on!

[cheers]

[Interview]

NINA: I have language-based learning disabilities that manifest in many, many ways, and I also stutter. Which isn’t LD, but it’s something going on in my brain too.

[music]

[At comedy club]

NINA: So if you have a learning disability or ADHD or you love a person that has a learning disability or ADHD, make some noise!

[cheers, woots, applause]

All right. Thank you.

[Interview]

Throughout my life, it’s affected the way that I read, the way that I write, that way that I spell, the way that I process information. Even in sign language, I thought, oh, my dyslexia’s not gonna be a problem there. But you do have the fingerspell.

[At comedy club] So I have some advice. A lot of times, I’ll be in the midst of a stutter, so I’ll be doing, “N-n-n-n.” And that’s when the other person does this with their hands.

[laughter]

You know? Yeah. Yeah. This, and telling me to “spit it out,” always very helpful.

[laughter]

[Interview]

I didn’t really have an outlet. I’m not an artist. I’m not musical at all. And sports was not my thing. The thing that I did love, though, from a very, very early age was stand-up comedy. That’s always been a thing that I’ve really loved and that I knew more of about than anybody else in my class and teachers and everybody. I learned how to be an advocate, and I learned how to have ideas, and I learned how to be heard. For me, being a comedian, I’m better able to access those ideas. Comedians who made discrimination tangible for people, so like Chris Rock and Richard Pryor and George Lopez, they were able to make audiences understand their experiences through comedy. And they’ve inspired me that maybe I can help people understand the experiences of people with disabilities through comedy or writing or whatever I do.

[At Superfest Film Festival]

I remember as a kid, maybe there’d be an episode of 90210 where one of the girls would have dyslexia. It was consider a “very special episode.” And then, they wouldn’t talk about it ever again. [laughter] And that was it. That was it!

[Interview] So many times, I think disability–whether it’s learning disabilities or stuttering or anything else–it’s presented as people being very weak. And that’s not true. In fact, kind of the opposite is true. That some of the strongest people that I’ve ever met are people with disabilities. But we’ve been presented this one image, and I think it’s really important to change that.

[At comedy club]

Thanks so much, guys!

[cheers, applause]

Dyslexia and Self-Compassion

Why are two dyslexics having a deep conversation about Buddhist psychology, compassion and learning disabilities while lying down on astroturf? The answer will reveal itself.  Check out my conversation with Sarah Entine.  We were at a party and got talking and I was like, let’s video this conversation and see if other people are interested.  We went to the patio and then the rest unfolds from there….

 

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See Video at: Buddhist psychology, self-compassion and dyslexia all walk into a bar…

NINA:  So I wanted to interview Sarah Entine because we were having this wonderful conversation outside of a bathroom, and I thought this needs to move to the video and move to YouTube. So I decided I would interview her on–Well, many of you know, I have this wonderful iceberg that I took from Dr. Sheehan. So he has the iceberg, where there is stuttering, but then underneath that, there’s denial and social isolation and all of these things. Really, you can take the iceberg, and look at it that way. But then you can turn it around and look at it in a different way. That different way could be that maybe stuttering is, that it brings community. Maybe there’s pride. Maybe there’s a different way to look at that. Sarah has done some work in Buddhist psychology, and she had a really interesting way of looking at dyslexia and maybe even general disability issues. So I wanted to have an opportunity to talk with her. Plus, you know, dyslexics kind of do things kinda weird. We’re at a party, and we are doing it in their backyard. And nobody knows. So that’s why we’re here. All right, so.

 

So you were telling me about self-compassion?

SARAH: Self-compassion, yes.

NINA: Tell me about that and how that worked with you having LD and what that meant.

SARAH: Well, for me, I came across this book by Kristin Neff, who’s the author of this book about self-compassion. It was so incredibly helpful because she has these three main points of acknowledging, sort of like mindfulness when something is difficult. Just being able to just acknowledge something’s hard. For me, having dyslexia or word-finding issues or sequencing or working memory stuff that comes along with my package with dyslexia, I find that there are these moments that are challenging and really hard. Just to be able to just recognize:  this is a hard moment. Just that in and of itself is one step in sort of acknowledging my experience. And then–

NINA: And you mean that like not everything in having a learning disability is fun and wonderful and great. You can acknowledge when you have a difficult time.

SARAH: Exactly. I mean, that’s I think, one of my pet peeves that I sometimes feel like I come across in the LD world and community in a sense, that there’s such a desire to want to make us feel good because in some ways, there’s sort of an understanding that this is hard.

SARAH: But they’re kind of wanting to make this jump or this leap to well, what are our strengths or what are our islands of competency or what’s our super power or what are the other ways that we can thrive? Which isn’t bad. I mean, it really isn’t bad.

NINA: And you need those things because if you get I wanna say “shit on,” but I’m trying to come up with a better word. But if you’re getting from school that you’re not good enough, that you’re not smart enough, all of these things, and you need those islands of competency to show you some other way. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that it doesn’t stop hurting.

SARAH: Exactly.

NINA: Because when you experience those things, you still hurt.

SARAH: Exactly. In those moments, it hurts, and then sometimes for me, it just feels like I’m being kind of pushed along to get to a happier place or an OK place faster than I’m at yet, kinda thing. So just to be able to first acknowledge this is a moment of difficulty, or this is a moment of suffering or challenge or whatever word we wanna use, you know? And then her second point is looking at experiencing this is like our shared, common humanity of life and that whether we have learning differences or not, we all have hard times, you know? Just to be able to know we are part of this human condition, that this is not an aberration. This happens in life, you know?

NINA: And for me, especially as a person who stutters and who has LD, my stuttering, I feel, is more communal, in that I can share that experience, that people seek that out because it’s a hard thing to hide. LD is a totally easy thing to hide.

SARAH: Totally, totally.

NINA: For me, it’s been really hard to find that community. I think that’s, in part, why I’ve been so active in the disability community, because I see that we have a shared experience. But I also have a difficult time finding those people that have LD who are like me, who think like me, and I really think we’re in the closet. Sometimes it’s hard to say, “Oh, it’s so advantageous to come out,” cuz it isn’t always. For me, stuttering, I’m half out of the closet. I have one foot out all the time, but for LD, you have that experience in isolation. I think that, for me, is the hardest part about having LD. What you’re saying is that it puts it into the context that everyone has those issues. So maybe did it help you feel that you weren’t so alone?

SARAH: Exactly, exactly. I think you’re totally right cuz I feel like I have this invisible difference. So no one’s expecting my sequence to be whacky when I’m speaking or a word-finding moment or just kind of going blank, trying to communicate or something. It may not even be that noticeable to other people. It might not be that big of a deal. But for me, I feel it.

NINA: Mmhmm.

SARAH: I can tell when I’m sort of in rhythm, and when I’m not.

NINA: Yes!

SARAH: When I’m not, it really is kind of like, I don’t know. It’s just an icky experience, I would say, in a lot of different ways.

NINA: I think that people don’t always understand that. I’ve been sick this entire week, and since I have Central Auditory Processing Disorder, I’ve been functioning like somebody who is Hard of Hearing. So people have been talking, and all I hear is, “Wah wah wah wah wah.” I’m like, “Ha ha, yeah,” and faking it. Because I cannot process language this week.

SARAH: Yeah, yeah. That’s a thing is it’s so easy to fake stuff.

NINA: Mmhmm.

SARAH: I mean, I definitely know that feeling, and I’ve done that many times in many conversations. And as my comfort level has grown, there’s times where I’m totally fine with outing myself about things. And there’s other times where I don’t want to, and I’m just gonna fake it till the moment’s over or something. But the shared, common humanity piece of it, I think, is really important. And then the last piece of the self-compassion, which is really kinda where–I mean, it’s all important, all three components. But this last piece is how can we turn towards what’s hard and be kind to ourselves?

NINA: Mmhmm! Mmhmm!

SARAH: And that’s not easy.

NINA: Yeah.

SARAH: We can have many years of not knowing how to do that and it being really self-critical.

NINA: And nobody’s ever modeled it.

SARAH: Not typically, yeah.

NINA: I mean, when I was in Catholic school, that totally was not modeled, so.

SARAH: Totally. I mean, it’s not modeled. I can’t think of a place. It’s very rare, I would say. So imagine if a good friend was really hurting, how would we respond to them?

NINA: Yeah.

SARAH: Can we show that same level of kindness towards ourselves? Sometimes that can just be like just having a kind phrase that we say to ourselves. Or it could be just physically, like putting a hand on our chest or some other place that just kinda like, “Ouch!” or “I just need to be nice to myself right now.”

NINA: Acknowledge.

SARAH: Acknowledge it, and “Can I just give it a moment here and just notice this is how it feels?”

NINA: Yeah.

SARAH: That has been really helpful. Even sometimes it can be like, “I don’t even know what to do; this is uncomfortable, you know?” That’s still sort of a drop in the bucket in that direction versus just ignoring it or powering through life or just distracting ourselves and getting on to something else and just stuffing it. It doesn’t, I mean, these things just kinda fester, especially because these issues are systemic issues, like this is how my brain is wired.

NINA: Yeah!

SARAH: This isn’t going away. So I need to find a way to work with something that’s gonna stay with me.

NINA: Well, and it’s systemic in that it’s systemic here in your head, but it’s also systemic in our society too, that there are barriers out there. When I have to look up a book using the Dewey Decimal System, yeah, that is a systemic thing that is always going to mess me up as a person that has dyslexia. It’s important that the society acknowledges that there are these different kinds of brains, but also we need to acknowledge that too. I mean, I think we ask people to accommodate us, but we don’t always accommodate ourselves in that emotional way.

SARAH: Totally, totally. And accommodations are important. I mean, all these things are–I’m not trying to say what I’m trying to share is more important than thinking of accommodations or thinking of what are the ways in which we are successful and have some other strengths in another area in our lives? That’s great, but to be a whole person in all that we encounter, I think having more social-emotional awareness and then some skills and some capacity to work with the difficulties that come up in life.

And just being able to be OK with it. I think parents are so well-meaning and have so much on their plates. And same with teachers. But I think it can also just be painful to see their child or student suffering and just wanna bypass this and get to what’s the strategy that’s gonna help fast?    Or how can we just get the homework done so we can feel good about ourselves again?

I think that, again, it’s just sort of like, “OK, this moment is like this. This moment is hard. Can we just hold it for what it is?” We still have to do homework, unfortunately. But can we–it’s like the attitude that we have about it. So that, we have some ways of working with it, and our attitudes, there’s–I’m losing my train of thought now. Eek! Edit, edit, edit!

NINA: And we’re gonna leave that in because this is the process.

SARAH: This is the process. So true. It’s true.

NINA: And it’s OK when you lose track.

Everybody edits that out. We’re not gonna edit that out!  So deal with it!

SARAH: Deal with it. Exactly. Yeah, I guess I’m sort of just thinking about the Buddhist psychology side of things and how we, the habits in how we think about ourselves can be really confining, especially when we’re just sort of stuck in it. So we’re sort of stuck in reaction mode. But when we’re able to give a little space and awareness, and we can choose an option, and we can choose, we can know this is really hard, but it’s not gonna last forever.

SARAH: Cuz we know. We can see that. Any emotion that we have, it kind of starts up, it peaks, and then it will eventually go away.

NINA: “This too shall pass” can apply to an emotion but also apply to difficulty when you’re doing your bills or difficulty when you’re doing those things that your dyslexia or your LD impacts you.

SARAH: Exactly, exactly. And a moment where I’m trying to describe a talk or just an idea right now, and it’s not coming out as smooth as I want–

NINA: And you say the thing! You know the thing!

SARAH: You know the thing!

NINA: The guy with the thing and the other thing.

SARAH: Right.

NINA: And I understand you when you say that.

SARAH: I’m glad you do [laughs].

NINA: It’s these people out there.

SARAH: Not everyone does. Or just like sensing other people’s impatience or something. We can’t control other people, but we what have more control over is what kinda relationship are we gonna have with ourself?  And that’s pretty major, you know?

Because that’s the most, I don’t know–We can have a more stable relationship with ourselves versus feeling like we’re at the mercy of what happens to us, just kind of naturally.

NINA: Well, and because so many of us experience learning disabilities in isolation, we may be that only individual that we know that has LD. So that is even more important. The community starts at home, and you really need to practice that.

SARAH: Definitely, definitely. And when I think about my own experiences, I figured out, I learned about this almost when I was 30, and then I started going to all these conferences. So again, I was trying to learn more about myself, but it was also, kinda similarly, it was like where’s my community? Where are these people?

Because it is true:  when you’re in school, it’s in some ways easier to have that because–I mean, easier? I don’t know. Depending on, if you go into a school that specializes on certain topics, you’re a part of a community, and you know it. But it’s through school. So you don’t know that.

NINA: But when I was in Special Ed, we were all in there. We were 30 kids in this class, or 15 or whatever, but none of us talked about it.

We were all in there. We didn’t know why we were in there. We just knew we had issues, and then we would act out on each other because we were acting out our issues.

SARAH: Right, right. Yeah, no, there’s so many kids I went to school with–I shouldn’t call them kids cuz we’re adults.  But we were kids then. I’ll be like, “You were dyslexic too?”

No one talked to each other. No one knew about it. And it wasn’t until I made my film, and I was talking to people about it, they’re like, “Oh! You know, I have this too.” I’m like, “Are you kidding me?!” So I think that is totally true. But I guess I’m also thinking there are schools like Landmark College or wherever where you’re all there for the same reason, and it’s very much front and center in the curriculum and what you’re talking about and stuff, so.

NINA: And also, those schools create an environment where it’s OK to be that. I just wanna recognize that not all teachers are educated in that same way. I’ve been in some Special Ed rooms that don’t work on that principle [laughs].

SARAH: Totally! That’s the thing is it’s such a smorgasbord of what’s out there.

NINA: And unfortunately, sometimes privilege–

SARAH: Exactly. I was about to say that.

NINA: –will, yeah, denote that.

SARAH: Like if you have resources, you can afford to go to some really pretty wonderful schools and experiences that I think can be pretty empowering. And then there’s some great public schools, and there’s some terrible public schools. And there can be some terrible public schools with a few great teachers.

 

NINA: I wish that everybody got that same experience of, “You experience this. It’s OK that your brain works this way. Sometimes it’s really hard,” but that emotional piece too, of like, “Yeah, there are things that you can do,” which I don’t think that everybody gets that in the same way. Which I think is really unfortunate.

SARAH: Right.

NINA: Which we’ll talk. I have a story for you once this is turned off.

SARAH: OK [laughs].

NINA: All right. OK, so that is Sarah Entine. Check out her movie…

SARAH: “Read Me Differently.”

NINA: “Read Me Differently.” And thanks for doing this, Sarah.

SARAH: Thanks, Nina. This was great!

NINA: So do you have a website?

SARAH: I do. It’s ReadMeDifferently.com.

NINA: All right. And I just wanna say, it’s a good thing we didn’t wear low-cut tops.

SARAH: Yeah, it’s really good.

NINA: Yeah, because we didn’t expose anything other than our souls.

SARAH: [laughs]

NINA: Thanks.

Minnie Pearl Inspires Mel Tillis To Stutter

On December 29th, 2015, Mel Tillis had a press conference in Laughlin, Nevada. Here’s what he said about stuttering (sorry video is so bad!). For many of us who stutter, we think we have to be perfect when we speak, but thankfully Minnie Pearl encouraged Mr. Tillis to speak on stage.  Link to video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJN5nX_ERf0

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Vintage photo of Mel Tillis (looking pretty fine)

MC: did you say Mel Tillis or M-Mel Tillis?

[laughter]

MEL: M-m-m-Mel Tillis.

MC: Ladies and gentlemen, let’s give a big round of applause for M-Mel Tillis!

[applause, cheers]

MEL: I was signing autographs here oh, not too long ago, and there was a fellow in line. He was about 15 on down the line, and he hollers out, “Mel Tillis! I paid $34 to hear you stutter, and you ain’t stutter one damn bit!”

[laughter]

And I said, “I’m trying to quit, sir!”

[laughter]

MC: That’s awesome. Well, go ahead and have a seat right there.

MEL: OK.

.

You know, when I first went to Nashville, boy I really stuttered bad. And I signed on as a songwriter for Webb Pierce’s company, and he paid me $50 against a draw. And when the money started coming in, they took that out. So actually, they hired me for nothing.

[laughter].

But I was a songwriter, and Jim Denney was a part-owner of that company, the publishing company. He also had a booking agency. One of his acts was Minnie Pearl. Minnie was going out and doing the fair dates all over the Midwest:  Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, all over the Midwest.

.

And she needed a rhythm guitar player and a singer. And Mr. Denny put me with her, and then I found out that she needed a fiddle player. Well, I had met a fiddle player at the coffee shop there on South and Union.

.

His name was Roger Miller.

[crowd excited].

And he said he could play the fiddle. I said, “Can you play?” “Yeah, I can play.” Then I went back, and I told them about him, and they hired him. We went out on the road, and I couldn’t even talk hardly in those days. Roger would introduce my song, and I’d sing it. Then, he’d come back out there and said, “Mel Tillis said ‘thank you’!”.

[laughter].

That’s the truth.

.

One day, Minnie Pearl–.

She’d been over there watching [inaudible] outdoors. I went over there, and I said, “Yes, Ma’am?” And says, “Mel,” she says, “I see that you have a little problem with speaking.” “Yes, Ma’am.”

.

And she said, “Well, if you’re gonna be in our business, you need to introduce your own song. And then you need to thank them. And then after the show, you need to sign autographs.” And I said, “Ms. Minnie, I c-,” I said, “I can’t do that.” I said, “They’ll laugh at me.” And she said, “No, they won’t now, but they’ll laugh with you.”

.

And I started talking onstage, and the next thing I knew, I did 17 Johnny Carson shows.

[laughter].

[inaudible], The Merv Griffin Show, The Dan Barton Show, The Hollywood Squares. I did them all and 13 movies. And Ms. Minnie was right.

MC: Yes, she was.

MEL: I started talking onstage. People did think that it’s something that I use. I don’t use it. When I was out there on the Glen Campbell “Goodtime Hour,” they would write that stuff, and we would say. They’d put the stutter in there!

[laughter]

I said, “I might not even stutter on that word! Take that thing outta there!”

[laughter]

But you know, over the years, the more I talked onstage–and Ms. Minnie was right–the less I stuttered.

[applause]

It’s still part for me, when I read something. I still have a problem reading orally. And that’s why I read silent.

[laughter]

MC: That’s awesome. So you were also involved in the SAY organization, which is for people, actually, who have that challenge, who have stuttering.

MEL: The Stuttering Foundation of America, yeah. And I’ve got a painting–you put it up on your phone there–a painting called “Masonic America,” and I’ve raised $88,000 for speech and hearing clinics with the Stuttering Foundation of America. I’m proud of it.

[applause, cheers]

You put it up. You’ll see it. [inaudible]. Not only will you see that picture, but you’ll see a lot of my paintings that I do. I do that too.

MC: Wow!

Writing from my Dyslexicon

I don’t do poetry, so I wrote this (for an article I am working on) and just put space between each line and now pawning it off as poetry.  In it’s full Dyslexiconic state….

nina-page-3b
Drawing by Mean Dave from our book Once Upon An Accommodation: A Book About Learning Disabilities (you should buy it)

Lexicon means the vocabulary someone has.

As a  person with dyslexia, I have my vobulary that is influenced by my dyslexia, you might call it my dyslexicon.

I spent much of my life rejecting my dyselexicon but if I want to write I need to embrace it.

I have embraced it by letting go of the shame from my English teacher’s red pen.

Whenever I write, I know that I will spell something wrong and that my grammar will be inconsistent.

I know that no matter how carefully I proofread, I will always have mistakes.

I know that if I accept this shame then I will be stunted as a writer.

Coming to embrace that I can write but there will be mistakes and that is ok because that is part of my voice, has helped me to be open about my dyselxia online and put my voice out into the world.

Check out my book: Once Upon An Accommodation: A Book About Learning Disabilities

The Everyday Ally: Tedx Talk

What do you do when you see someone being denigrated?  This Tedx Talk personalizes what it really means to be an Everyday Ally.  

 

NINA: My name is Nina G., and I am America’s only female, stuttering standup comedian. You can clap for that! Yeah! That’s impressive.

[applause, cheers]

I’m part of a comedy troupe called The Comedians with Disabilities Act. So it’s me, a guy who uses a wheelchair, another guy who’s blind, and another guy who’s a Little Person. People come up to me all the time, and they say, “You know, stuttering isn’t a real disability. You shouldn’t be in that show!” So I explain to them that if you look at the definition of what a disability is, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, it’s a physical or mental impairment that substantially results in having to deal with jerks.

[laughter]

Thank you, thank you.

[applause]

You can clap for that. Thank you. So I’m pretty sure it qualifies,

And I have a jokey joke that you can tell at the office or to your children. Most of my jokes you can’t, but this is the one you can. So I need your help on this one. How many disabled people does it take to screw in a light bulb?

[“How many?!”]

Thank you! They were plants!

One to screw it in, and five able-bodied people to say, “You are such an inspiration!”

[laughter, applause]

Thank you, yes.

For more on why calling a person with a disability an inspiration isn’t OK, go check out Stella Young’s TED talk, because it’s totally awesome. It will explain all of that. So a lot of my standup comedy is about microaggressions that I experience in the world. According to Derald Wing Sue–and I wanted to get this right. So I’m going to read it. According to Derald Wing Sue, “microaggressions are the everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of group membership.” Now, microaggressions occur for all minority groups, but some examples in my own life as a person with a disability, specifically a person who stutters, includes some of the following.

Let’s see. Sometimes, in the midst of a stutter, someone will do this. You know, like, “Hurry it up.” Because this helps me! This is good.

[laughter].

This, and telling me to spit it out. All very helpful things.

[laughter]

And it was like this one time, I was with one of my friends, and then his friend walked up. I introduced myself, and I stuttered just a tiny bit on my name. This guy says, “Is that Nina with 5 Ns?”

[moans]

Yeah, I know. So I said, “Well, first of all, I stutter. Second of all, that’s Nina with 2 Ns,” and I flipped him off on both hands.

[chuckles]

Which I thought was pretty good because a lot of times, in the midst of a microaggression, you don’t always know how to react. And you always go back, “Oh, I should’ve done this or that.” I got it right the first time. Although, I am exaggerating a bit because I actually said, “That’s Nina with 1 N,” because I also have dyslexia and forget I had 2 Ns in my name.

[laughter]

So there’s that too.

As wonderful as microaggressions are for my standup comedy, they’re not that great for my psychological and my emotional wellbeing because they take a lot of work. They take a lot of psychological work to think, “Was that interaction weird? Should I have done this? Should I have done that?”

I think that as a society, we can move toward being allies. That is becoming more than just being aware, but participating in a world and making a world where microaggressions, if you see something happen, then you do something. So I really want to challenge you to be an everyday ally. A lot of times when we think about allies, we think about people who are protesting, and they are going and they’re marching, and they’re donating money. But really, what I want to talk about is how to be an ally in your everyday life. Luckily, I have had people in my life who have been my ally, who I’ve learned from. I have many stories about that, but I wanted to share two with you this evening. The first one–

Oh, and one thing that I do want to say about being an ally to the disabled community is that you want to involve us. There is a saying in the disability community, which is “Nothing about us, without us.” Disabled people aren’t here for your service hours. We’re not here just to fulfill your need to feel like you’re helpful. We want to be in the conversation. So that is something that I wanted to make sure was clear.

One of the stories that I wanted to share was about my former boss, Ned. Now, Ned and I worked for a program that was being evaluated by an outside consultant. The outside consultant came in, and we had a meeting with 20 of the staff. Each of the staff had to say their name and what they did there at the job. The outside consultant was someone who didn’t know me, didn’t know about my disability and how I identified. I can do a TED talk totally fine because I feel in control here. And that kind of situation, where I have to say two or three sentences, where I don’t disclose, I don’t feel in control because I don’t know what kind of assumptions that person’s going to make about me.

When she came to me, and I talked, she got the look. And if you stutter, you know what the look is. There’s a couple of looks. One is the…oh poor thing look. We get that oftentimes. It doesn’t really help us to communicate well when you look that way. So don’t. And then, the other look was this look of like…what’s going on here? What is this? I have a name for this look that I can’t say in a TED talk.

[laughter]

But I think you get the idea.

Afterwards, I was debriefing with my boss, and he asked me how I thought that it went. I said, “She looked at me weird.” Now, a lot of times when someone says that they “looked at me weird,” we’re like, “Oh! I’m sure it’s fine, that it’s all in your head!” Ned didn’t do that. He said, “I saw that, and I wondered about that too.” So he had validated me.

When you experience a microaggression, especially as a person with a disability, and for me, people who stutter are less than 1% of the population. So a lot of times, when I experience a microaggression, it’s in isolation, that I don’t necessarily have a community that can hold me in the immediate time. Luckily, I have made those connections. But it’s not something that necessarily comes automatically. So for him to validate me was such an important thing.

The next thing he did was just amazing! He said, “Did you want me to say anything?” Now, for me, that was really amazing because he was going to use his power and his privilege to do something. That he saw something that was unjust, and he saw that I was uncomfortable. So he was willing to use his power and his privilege to do something about it.

Also, what he did was he asked if it was OK. I know for myself, sometimes when I’m being an ally, I get into it a lot. Sometimes, I can make it about me, and it’s important to know that when you are being an ally, that it’s not about you, and to really involve the individual that you’re being an ally for or the community, in that conversation.

The next story that I wanted to share is about an ally from a very unlikely source. The unlikely source came in the form of an 8th grade boy. Now, when I was in the 7th grade, I ran for student body government, and I won. I went to a school that took themselves way too seriously, and we had this big inauguration. In the inauguration, all of the student body government people had to be sworn in. At the rehearsal, what I learned was that I had to stand in front of the entire school, 1st through the 8th grade. It was a Catholic school. So it was in front of the teachers, the nuns, the priests. Even the town newspaper was there. I had to stand in front of everybody and say, “I insert name here.”

Now, when you stutter, “I insert name here” is one of the most anxiety-provoking things that you could possibly say because so many of us stutter on our name. . And there’s also no way to substitute that. As I left the rehearsal–Oh, and the others kids in the rehearsal started to laugh when I stuttered on my name.

But as I left, it’s this one 8th grade boy ran after me, and he said, “Can you say ninja?” And I was like, “Um, I guess so?” He said, “Well, just switch it around and say Nina instead.” And I’m all, “Thank you?” Cuz there’s this weird thing when you have a disability, suddenly everybody has a PhD in the thing you have. I get advice all the time like, “Just slow down and breathe.”

[chuckles]

You know, in the 30 years I’ve been stuttering, I have never thought about that.

[laughter, applause]

And I guess I haven’t been breathing this entire time.

[laughter]

But this 8th grade boy was trying to help, and he was the one ally that I had in that situation. Plus, he was kinda cute. So he got a pass.

That entire week before the inauguration came, I practiced my name in front of the mirror. I practiced it with my parents. I practiced it at my speech therapist’s office. When the day came, I went in front of the entire school, and I said, “I, N-n-n-Nina G.” And in my 7th grade girl mind, I thought that my life was completely offer. I thought I would have to change schools, move cities, the entire thing.

Later on that day, I went to recess, just expecting a sea of kids to make fun of me. I was talking to that same 8th grade boy, the ninja kid, and that’s when a 3rd grade boy walked up. The 3rd grade boy said, “Hey, N-n-n-Nina.” Now, that’s something that I’ve heard my entire life. So it’s really not funny anymore. It’s sometimes funny if you do it to the Chia pets song. ♪”N-n-n-Nina,”♪ like that. That’s kinda funny, but even that gets old.

But this 8th grade boy did something that I had never experienced, is he gently knelt down so he could look the little boy in the eye and said, “If I ever hear you saying that to anybody, if I ever hear you saying that to her in the future, I’m going to tell everybody your pee-pee’s this big.”

[laughter]

And I was so touched. That was so nice.

[laughter]

I wasn’t made fun of the rest of the year. And also, I had a crush on that guy for the rest of the year too. I’ve looked for him on Facebook. I can’t find him. I’m thinking maybe some TED Talk action might happen now.

[laughter]

But I learned some very important things that day. One, is I learned I could stutter in front of people and live. That was a really important thing. The other thing I learned was that I had other people who had had my back. Because prior to that, I thought it was just me and my parents. But this 8th grade boy had showed me that other people had my back. Also, as a kid who was in school who had stuttered and had a learning disability, I didn’t always feel that I was part of the community at school. My teachers didn’t always make me feel like that. But this one 8th grade boy made me feel like I had a community, and my 7th grade was a little bit better because of him.

Also, what I learned that day is that if anybody ever makes fun of me, I just tell them they have a small pee-pee.

Thank you guys so much!

[applause, cheers]

An Open letter to NPR and Unlocking Dyslexia

dyslexia-overshadows_custom-f5369e463cbb277eeccc503519aa2e6cbe5cd2bd-s1500-c85.jpg
Picture symbolizing dyslexia from NPR’s page.

*This blog is written in my dyslexicon.  I specifically didn’t proof this for edits to demonstrate what my writing is without the standard edits.  

NPR went dyslexic this week for a series on different aspects of dyslexia.  They offered some great information.  My main critique is that the programing didn’t include discussion of civil rights as they relate to individuals with Learning Disabilities.  As someone with dyslexia, who experienced early intervention yet struggled through school, one of the key components for me was advocacy.

I remember the first time that I received an accommodation on a test.  My third grade teacher gave me the test orally.  I told her the answers to her questions.  I was the first one to finish the test and the first one to get an A, likely my first A on a test for that year.  Unfortunately, that was one of the last accommodations I remember from my third grade Catholic School teacher.  Back in the 1980s many private schools didn’t accommodate students with disabilities, this has gotten better since the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Because of the lack of access, I saw my parents advocate for me year after year, often resulting in my father kicking my mother under the table in fear that she was coming on “too strong” to the teachers.

I eventually went to public school where I had better access to my education and teachers who had my back.  Consequently, my parents let me pick up the advocacy slack.  It was my turn to advocate for what I needed from teachers.  This helped to prepare me for college where the responsibility lies on student to speak up and ask for accommodations from the school and their individual teachers.  These skills are what helped me graduate from Berkeley and go onto a doctoral program at a small private school that didn’t offer the array of accommodations that my Berkeley and my community colleges offered.

NPR, thank you for featuring dyslexia.  Thank you for having a report with dyslexia who brought the experiences of individuals with dyslexia into the forefront.  It was wonderful to hear my experiences reflected on the radio show.  Thank you for letting parents know that there are options for their kids and that they can grow up to be successful.  Just please remember that in the United States there were a lot of Disability rights activists who fought for our rights to get access to school, the work place and just about every other part of life. Knowing these rights and how to advocate is key to our success.

In addition to the links to the NPR stories, I have included my own Huffington Post blog that I wrote on tips to graduating seniors with dyslexia on advocacy in college.

Beyond IEPs: Learning Disabilities Go To College

Download of the free workbook to guide students on how to advocate for their dyslexia from my book, Once Upon An Accommodation: A Book About Learning Disabilities.

From NPR:

Millions Have Dyslexia, Few Understand It

How Science Is Rewiring The Dyslexic Brain

‘B’ And ‘D’ Learning Process Debunks Dyslexia Jumbled-Letters Myth

Raising A Child With Dyslexia: 3 Things Parents Can Do

Dyslexia: The Learning Disability That Must Not Be Named

What every parent of a kid with learning issues needs to hear

This blog post is dedicated to every parent or ally of a kid with a disability who didn’t think their advocacy was working.  Watch the video or read the transcript below.

what-ever-needs

Watch the video here!

The schools oftentimes told my  parents that Catholic school was not for me, that it wasn’t a place that I belonged and that they only served the “typical” kids. And the one story that I really wanted to share with you was when I first got diagnosed, the schools kinda tried to push me out. My mom tried to educate them about what a learning disability was.

And so she called up Cal at the time, and they had a disability office. And they specifically had a program for students who had LD. And she got a letter from the school and presented it to the teachers and said, “Look at  this! You think she’s only gonna fry French fries. I think that  was your exact term, McDonalds.”

So she said, “She’s only gonna work there,” which by the way, if they increase the minimum wage, that would be awesome. [ laughs ] You wouldn’t have any loans. And showed that letter to the teachers. And the teachers just kind of ignored it, and it didn’t really work.

But she folded it up and put it in the drawer next to my savings bonds from my first Communion and a lot of other really important things like my Social Security card. And it sat there, and for me, even though it didn’t help with the teacher, it helped that I saw her actually do that.

And I eventually went to Cal, and I think it was a big part because I knew that that was a school that they had accommodations.

And so sometimes the interventions and the activism and the advocacy that you do as  a parent, it may not work on the person that you’re trying to direct it at. But it may work because of the impact on your kid.

#activism #advocacy #specialed #catholicschool #disability #dyslexia

 

Insights from a stuttering comedian with dyslexia. These are my unedited thoughts. Grammar and spelling doesn't count on blogging, especially since it did I would never post!