Stuttering at the Women's March on Washington
I did my very best to not roll my eyes at Katy Perry. She was my, I think, twelfth interview of the day and I was feeling pretty confident. She smiled and said "hello" when I approached her, and I struggled to introduce myself.
"Hi, I'm Char! I'm a reporter with P-p-p-p." Things were going down hill.
Katy grabbed my arms and told me to "relax." I laughed it off and tried to continue, but Katy decided to "help" me a little more. She motioned for everyone around us to come in close.
"You just need to take a deep breath. We're all gonna take a deep breath together! Ready?! 1-2-3.."
I entertained her, joining in on the group's deep breath with smile. She donned an accomplished smile on her face from then on out, seemingly pleased that she had "helped" me "relax."
I was not embarrassed. I was not offended. Annoyed? Yes. Offended. No. I asked my questions and went on my way.
I didn't think much about my stutter when my bosses asked me to cover the inauguration and the Women's March on Washington in D.C. When Inauguration Day came on Friday, my colleague Katie and I were at the nearly-empty event bright and early. I was a little nervous at first, but I managed to interview more than a dozen people that day -- some fluently and others not so fluently. But I got the job done and I walked away from the experience with no negative feelings.
The day of the March was a bit different.
Katie and I were up (earlier than "bright and early") and out at the March interviewing people together before the event actually began. The first woman we interviewed was Angelique, a vibrant woman who had traveled all the way from Florida. She was such a joy to speak with and had such a positive attitude when Katie and I asked her questions -- Katie ended up asking most of the questions. From the moment we began recording, and Katie had the camera going, I had so many blocks and repetitions that I was unable to ask even one full question. Katie jumped in and asked all we needed to know.
"I'm sorry, I don't know why I just had so much trouble," I told her after we left Angelique. "Thanks for helping me out though."
I've made a general rule of not apologizing for my speech, but I was feeling pretty defeated and a bit ashamed after the incident. Still, I continued. Katie and I interviewed person after person, men, women and children. My speech was better as the morning progressed, and soon it was time for Katie and I to part ways -- her to the photographer's pit and me to the backstage area.
I've interviewed celebrities plenty of times before. I know the red carpet routine: stand in your spot, wait for the star to get to you and ask your questions quickly. I knew I'd stutter, that's always inevitable. But my goal is always to ask my questions, no matter how many techniques I need to use, no matter how many funny faces I make, no matter how badly I stutter: I ask my questions.
And that's what I did. One by one, Sophia Bush, Jesse Jackson, Danielle Brooks, Jidenna, Bella Thorne, Jackie Cruz, Van Jones, America Ferrera and more. I stuttered my way through those with confidence, but the pressure of the day increased when Cher came strutting down the carpet -- with a bunch of cameramen in tow.
The only thing more difficult than interviewing someone on the spot is interviewing someone on the spot with four cameras in your face. Of course, the dozens of people, the multiple cameras and the photographers surrounding us were there for Cher. But when the recording light began shining on Cher and I, my stomach dropped as if I were coming down a rollercoaster -- as if I was the star of the show.
How am I gonna do this? I thought. It's hard enough interviewing freaking Cher, but how am I gonna do it on camera? I can't stutter. I absolutely can't. Is it hot in here? Wait, we're outside and it's three degrees. So, it's just me. Okay, I'm covered in sweat. I'm dizzy. I think I'm gonna faint.
I didn't faint. The cameras flashed, all eyes were on Cher and I. I asked my questions. Almost completely fluently, I conducted my interview and Cher went on her way. Unbeknownst to the crew of people who had just stared at me for five minutes, I was light-headed and needed a moment after such an exhausting experience.
I couldn't take that moment though. The environment was fast-paced, and I spent the next few hours grabbing stars like Zendaya, Katy Perry and Jake Gyllenhaal. To be honest, there wasn't time to think too in depth about my stutter, and I guess that was good. I opted for mini pep talks like, Okay, you've been doing great. You're getting the job done. You're okay. Keep going.
And I did. I kept going. By the end of the day I was exhausted; physically and mentally exhausted. I was tired, but I felt accomplished. I was exhausted, but I went to bed that night thinking, I did that. I freaking owned this day.
I wracked my brain trying to pull some profound lesson out of this experience. But I realize that there isn't one. I went to work, I stuttered, the world didn't end, and I went to bed. That's all it was.
Although I'd like to romanticize my disability and find some deep column-worthy lesson in my everyday life, that's usually not how it works. Most of the time, those of us with disabilities, we just get through the day. Most of the time, life isn't grand. It's just us and our disabilities, and we get through it -- and sometimes we're surprised that we did.
The strength and stability it takes to get through the regular, ordinary days is the foundation of our victories. Every day is not "inspiring." But I guess that is the true beauty of living with a disability.