Megan Washington – TRANSCRIPT
I didn’t know when I agreed to do this whether I was expected to talk or to sing. But when I was told that the topic was language, I felt that I had to speak about something for a moment.
I have a problem. It’s not the worst thing in the world. I’m fine. I’m not on fire. I know that other people in the world have far worse things to deal with, but for me, language and music are inextricably linked through this one thing.
And the thing is that I have a stutter. It might seem curious given that I spend a lot of my life on the stage. One would assume that I’m comfortable in the public sphere and comfortable here, speaking to you guys. But the truth is that I’ve spent my life up until this point and including this point, living in mortal dread of public speaking. Public singing, whole different thing. But we’ll get to that in a moment.
I’ve never really talked about it before so explicitly. I think that that’s because I’ve always lived in hope that when I was a grown-up, I wouldn’t have one. I sort of lived with this idea that when I’m grown, I’ll have learned to speak French, and when I’m grown, I’ll learn how to manage my money, and when I’m grown, I won’t have a stutter, and then I’ll be able to public speak and maybe be the prime minister and anything’s possible and, you know. So I can talk about it now because I’ve reached this point, where — I mean, I’m 28. I’m pretty sure that I’m grown now. And I’m an adult woman who spends her life as a performer, with a speech impediment. So, I might as well come clean about it.
There are some interesting angles to having a stutter. For me, the worst thing that can happen is meeting another stutterer. This happened to me in Hamburg, when this guy, we met and he said, “Hello, m-m-m-my name is Joe,” and I said, “Oh, hello, m-m-m-my name is Meg.” Imagine my horror when I realized he thought I was making fun of him. People think I’m drunk all the time.
People think that I’ve forgotten their name when I hesitate before saying it. And it is a very weird thing, because proper nouns are the worst. If I’m going to use the word “Wednesday” in a sentence, and I’m coming up to the word, and I can feel that I’m going to stutter or something, I can change the word to “tomorrow,” or “the day after Tuesday,” or something else. It’s clunky, but you can get away with it, because over time I’ve developed this loophole method of using speech where right at the last minute you change the thing and you trick your brain.
But with people’s names, you can’t change them. When I was singing a lot of jazz, I worked a lot with a pianist whose name was Steve. As you can probably gather, S’s and T’s, together or independently, are my kryptonite. But I would have to introduce the band over this rolling vamp, and when I got around to Steve, I’d often find myself stuck on the “St.” And it was a bit awkward and uncomfortable and it totally kills the vibe. So after a few instances of this, Steve happily became “Seve,” and we got through it that way.
I’ve had a lot of therapy, and a common form of treatment is to use this technique that’s called smooth speech, which is where you almost sing everything that you say. You kind of join everything together in this very singsong, kindergarten teacher way, and it makes you sound very serene, like you’ve had lots of Valium, and everything is calm. That’s not actually me. And I do use that. I do. I use it when I have to be on panel shows, or when I have to do radio interviews, when the economy of airtime is paramount. I get through it that way for my job. But as an artist who feels that their work is based solely on a platform of honesty and being real, that feels often like cheating.
Which is why before I sing, I wanted to tell you what singing means to me. It’s more than making nice sounds, and it’s more than making nice songs. It’s more than feeling known, or understood. It’s more than making you feel the things that I feel. It’s not about mythology, or mythologizing myself to you. Somehow, through some miraculous synaptic function of the human brain, it’s impossible to stutter when you sing. And when I was younger, that was a method of treatment that worked very well for me, singing, so I did it a lot. And that’s why I’m here today.
Singing for me is sweet relief. It is the only time when I feel fluent. It is the only time when what comes out of my mouth is comprehensively exactly what I intended. So I know that this is a TED Talk, but now i’m going to TED sing. This is a song that I wrote last year.
Thank you very much. Thank you.
♪ I would be a beauty ♪
♪ but my nose ♪
♪ is slightly too big ♪
♪ for my face ♪
♪ And I would be a dreamer ♪
♪ but my dream ♪
♪ is slightly too big ♪