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At an early age I found that I could express the quality and quantity of my mind rather satisfactorily by writing. Although I read books in my father's library and had a degree of admiration for the great men who wrote them, I have no good reason to assume that I should ever have had serious literary ambitions had my speech been fluent. I should not have found it necessary or convenient to write, and certainly the literary profession offers financial attractions of no great appeal to any one able to make money in a more luxurious manner. It is not enough to say that I was prompted by a love of art for art's sake. The term is always a half-truth; at best it is only a clew to the truth in any particular case. To say that a man loves art explains nothing; just as it explains nothing to say that a man loves a particular woman. It is necessary to explain why he must love at all, and to explain the meaning of that particular woman upon whom he has set his affections. An adequate analysis would probably result in a treatise on biology,


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psychology, sociology, economics -- and incidentally, love.

But whatever is true of writers in general is just now beside the point; it is beyond my present scope to meddle with the stock arguments in aesthetics. Only I want to make it clear, if I can, why I embraced the ambition to be a writer, in order to show to a degree why any stutterer might bend his abilities to a certain pattern.

The essence of the matter is that writing has been to me a compensation for stuttering. Why have not more stutterers hit upon the same compensation? Some of the reasons are obvious. The first is that not all stutterers, by any means, have intelligence enough for literary endeavor. Aside from that, the cultural tone of the typical American home almost prohibits the development of literary taste. The home library consists, as a rule, of almanacs and government bulletins, with a few elementary school textbooks and sentimental novels, and a kewpie doll thrown in for statuary. Table conversation seldom gets beyond neighborhood gossip. The radio brings jazz and the movies contribute sentimentality. The newspapers encourage superficiality. And the whole flowers into uncritical prejudice and poor grammar. Like Carlyle's genius, a literary artist in America is impossible until he appears.



If that is not reason enough, the public school furnishes more. Its entire personnel, both teachers and students, come from these homes, and the pragmatic obsession has won them over without a struggle. Grammar is made a chore, reading of all sorts is made a task instead of a pleasure -- largely because the teachers think of it in that sense. The biographies of authors are made just as interesting as a list of obituaries; in fact, they are literally presented as obituaries, with conventional indifference and superficial examination. That Byron drank whisky is considered more important than that he wrote "Don Juan"; that Bryant was theoretically an upright citizen is counted as of more importance than that the bulk of his writings did not constitute rather good literature. Literature on the whole is relegated to the oblivion of impracticality; it is not comparable to tinkling money, and is therefore relatively worthless. For the exceptions to this state of affairs, let us be thankful, and deplore likewise that they are exceptions.

If that is still insufficient reason why more stutterers do not take up writing, the general cultural tone of American society will complete the picture, together with the fact that, financially, writing is a precarious profession. I have referred to this cultural tone as representing pragmatism rampant, the



preoccupation with immediate materialities. Idealism, one of the chief elements and purposes of literature, lies outside the realm of earthbound industrialism. The father groans and utters oaths and threats when his child begins to love belles lettres. Economic and social pressure bears heavily to direct the young person into other fields. Any one who takes up literary work in this country is not only educated in an unconventional way, but also he probably is, for some reason, very desperate.

That my desire to write grew out of my inability to speak will perhaps not appear, then, to be farfetched. It is true that few stutterers have followed the same line of development, but no doubt more stutterers would lean to the scrivener's profession, provided they had a fair degree of native intelligence, if those who have them in charge appreciated their situation enough to make writing a possibility for them.

From the first, it was my motive in writing, not the mere fact that I wrote, that was important to me. I looked on writing from a definite paint of view. It struck me as being a ready means of expression, however indirect. In this connection, it is to be mentioned that the mere written word was a simple convenience in the doing of everyday tasks. In making purchases for my parents at the village



stores, I often wrote on a slip of paper the list of articles I had to buy, and I simply presented this slip to the clerk at the store. I did not always do this, but only when I anticipated more than usual difficulty in speaking. In seeking particular persons, I often presented a written slip at information bureaus or to floorwalkers. This technique proved useful in many other ways. But, as expediency so often is, this was essentially an escape, an admission of defeat, a truce with the difficulty. In the stutterer who does not realize that it is a gesture of escape, it might possibly set up detrimental habits. But, I think, to the one who knows and frankly admits to himself just what he is doing and why he is doing it, it is probably nothing more nor less than expedient.

So much for the written word as a simple convenience. In more subtle ways, it was a means of expression. Words, of course, are symbols of ourselves, our feelings and thoughts, and they represent to the external world the quality of our minds and the richness of our lives. The stutterer, displaying a dearth of words -- and those given out stumblingly -- must either he discounted in the opinions of his fellows, or he must resort to some other means of self- expression. To me, this other means was writing. It might have been painting or



music or woodwork, or anything else which serves to make one's personality apparent. But I was more familiar with books, and so I leaned in the direction of literature. I had heard many exciting stories of the pioneering days; they had particular significance for me, my father and mother having been pioneers. I heard other stories, too, and read others. I came to enjoy good stories. The next step was logically that of coming to realize the joy of writing stories, in one form or another. I made that step when I was about eight years old, just after I had read the last line in a juvenile book that consisted of the biography of a squirrel. Right then I decided to write a novel, and no sooner had I made the decision than I began to carry it out: "It was a cold morning in December. I was coasting down the creek bank. I coasted down one bank and up the other like a monkey going up a tree."

Nothing came of it -- which is of no importance. The important fact was that I had started on a career; and since that time I have known quite definitely what I have wanted to do in this world. What I wrote in the three years that followed consisted chiefly of intended humor, but beyond that general description memory is vague with reference to it. I know that I persistently tried to be funny in writing. In a previous chapter I dealt with the develop-



ment of a pleasant disposition, and the fact that I found humor and geniality extremely advantageous. If humor was not present, I tried to create it -- and so I aspired to be a humorist.

When I was eleven years old, however, the United States entered the World War, and my emotional reaction to that event was considerable; I was excited by the glory and touched by the pity of it. During the next two years I indulged in the composition of thoroughly bad war verse, and I dismissed the enemy with the following:

There were three more verses!

The writing of verse was a great satisfaction to me; it has remained a satisfaction to me in periods of unusual emotional intensity in my life. Even now, I write a poem occasionally -- and whenever I do I can be reasonably certain that things are not going smoothly for me, or that I have been overjoyed. The significant thing is that the writing of poetry has always been a great relief for me in moments of stress. I have experienced it for the most part in times of severe loneliness -- and the one thing more than any other that has made me intensely



lonely has been stuttering. I used to consider my poems achievements to the degree that I enjoyed showing them to my friends. It was a way of gaining that recognition which I was forced to seek by indirect routes. In later years, however, the writing of poetry has served chiefly to crystallize a random emotivity in myself, to bring it to a head, so to speak, and draw it outside myself -- on the sheet of paper. That done, the equilibrium of my feelings is restored, and it is not so important that others see the poem itself. That others see the poem is also not so important for the reason that I have found quite ready means of winning an adequate recognition from my fellows, a satisfying place in society. By these remarks, I mean to indicate the relevancy of writing to my speech defect, and little aside from that.

That I tried to make my literary work serve me as a golden egg and a mark of distinction is indicated by the amusing fact that roughly between my twelfth and eighteenth years I received well over a hundred rejection slips from editors whom I assaulted with my jokes and skits and essays and verse. It appears, then, that to me writing meant something more than mere self-expression; my attitude was more aggressive than that. Writing, in all truth, meant a means of conquest not only of popular favor but of money



as well. To say that I loved art for art's sake would be a gross misstatement.

In the grade school and also in the high school, I frequently wrote pages of what was designed to be humor, and illustrated them with drawings. These I passed around among the other students, and in this way compensated for the fact that I could not make myself appear equally talented by word of mouth. Furthermore, having in this way established my reputation as a jolly good fellow, I was granted more readily the privilege of stuttering when I attempted to speak. As a general consequence, I, too, did not consider my stuttering as being so great a handicap as it might otherwise have been.

Writing provided me also with a manner of showing my ability as a student. I could bear the comparative obscurity into which I was thrust by the fact that I did not take part in oral recitations. I could bear it, because by my written work I could prove that my silence in class was not the symptom of stupidity. Often the papers I wrote were either read before the class, or even placed in school exhibits -- in this way the odious purpose of my stuttering was defeated. I was not relegated to silence exactly, put out of sight, denied a hearing. I was rather allowed to be a part of the society in which I lived, and that was the end, largely, that I sought.



From the first, then, writing was a means of self-expression, not possible by word of mouth. It was also a manner of aggression, by which I sought to gain fellowship, money, and respect, all of which, of course, were not accessible to me by the spoken as by the written word. Essentially, writing has been and still is a compensation for my stuttering, and that is the crux of the matter.

It should be added at this point that although I gained a degree of respect from all quarters, because of my writing, my literary ambitions did run counter to my father's practicality. He was proud of the fact that I could write, but he saw in literature only an exercise of leisure and not at all a means of livelihood. The matter of making a living was to him of first importance, and he insisted that I train myself for a profitable profession -- business or law or medicine. But to me, writing meant so much more than a source of income that I could not bear the thought of compromising, and because of the terrific impetus to write which I had to begin with, my father's opposition only appeared as another obstacle to overcome, and I met it with increased literary fervor. I had to. I couldn't quit writing. Doing that would have meant reverting to the level of a stutterer, and that was insufferable. The effort to achieve my ambition became, because of my father's



attitude, a rather more severe struggle, and one that was sometimes painful. It was only necessary, however, to show him that literature was a source of revenue; aside from that phase of the matter, he shared the joy of my literary efforts. One of the reasons for making these personal remarks is that they may be of some value to the fathers who have stuttering children.

Out of this encounter with the economic element that dominates the American mind, I acquired a dislike for it. It tended to exercise a restraint on me, and every student of human behavior knows that restraint of activity is the great cause of rage. It is seen best in children. As I came more and more to appreciate the value of art, I came more and more to resent the American business mind which stands in opposition to aesthetic values. It was not good for my congenial disposition; in fact, it tended to set up in me a rather unsocial attitude. When, at a later age -- roughly my nineteenth year -- I began to write stories and serious verse, a tone of bitterness crept into them. I developed an aspiration to be a critic; I saw that there was a great deal the matter with things in general.

It all goes back to my stuttering. But a discussion of my nineteenth year and after belongs to a later chapter.


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