I am deign to write about this. Because I have adopted “Fearless” as my motto, I should, I guess. And it is not a laughing matter, although I have been laughed at, for as long as I can remember. People seem to love to poke fun at others’ imperfection but in the deepest recess of my heart, I am inclined to believe that what God taketh, God giveth.
I was born in 1965, in the year of the Snake. Both my parents are retired teachers. Our lingua franca at home is English and Mandarin. Along the way – I picked up other Chinese dialects like Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka and yes, I do speak a bit of Thai now.
You would think every child born is perfect. Don’t get me wrong – I am not about to compare myself to children that are born with ADHD, autism, spina bifida or other physical impairments. By which way you look at it – every child born is a treasure, filled with love and to be loved.
I guess I was born a stutterer. That is to say – I cannot speak normally like you, you and you. I find it difficult to string a full sentence without pausing, only to find that the words somehow get entangled. You may also call it stammering.
Some theorists say that it is the result of the mind thinking faster than the mouth can speak. My mum was once recommended by a Shaman to give me a “shock treatment” a la soaking me with cold water without me knowing what was happening. They figure that the shock treatment will jolt me to my senses and hence – I am able to speak like… well – you, you and you!
You must know that way back in 1971, when I was but a young boy in standard one, the way how people see you is entirely different from now. In standard one, I was regarded as a joke. An oddity. There was this teacher with a sadistic streak who would get me in front of the class to speak. When I faltered, he would laugh, make jokes about my speech impediment and encourage the class to laugh at me.
Much later on, I came to realize that there in fact – people who had their share of bad childhood becoming what they are now – sadists, perverts and so forth. And thus – I was a loner in my primary school days. Heck – who’d want to be friends with a joke?
My best friends were books. Although the medium of instruction was Malay, my grasp of the English language was way better than my peers. I gulped down as many books as I could lay my hands on – Gulliver’s Travels, Around the world in Eighty days, and yes – the ever popular Enid Blyton’s series.
A child that is ostracized by others, treated like a failure in life somehow creates his own fantasy world. In that fantasy world lives heroes that are bent about righting wrongs. In a child’s mind – that is escapism from a cold, brutal world of so called perfection.
I was born with an artistic talent. I could draw very well for a young boy of 9. Sadly – my parents wanted me to be a doctor, lawyer, scientist or any other profession EXCEPT an artist. I don’t blame them. They wanted the best for me – and to be the best equates to every month bringing home a fat salary, living in a lavish mansion and driving luxury cars. And so – the artist in me vanished, only to resurface many years later when I walked into the crazy world of advertising.
It was the same in secondary school. Classmates would jeer at you, call you names and imitate how you speak. I guess group dynamics and having people around you who are “like you” makes it easy to laugh at people “not like you”.
Again – my best friends were my books. This time – it’s Heidi (my favourite, by Johanna Spyri), Last of the Mohicans, the entire Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes were my bedtime companions.
It is said that every teenager has raging hormones. I downplayed my desire to be with the pretty girls in school because of my speech impediment. Hey – which girl would want to be seen with an oddball anyway? In Form 5, I was speechless when I saw my name spewed across the wall opposite the Tennis court with “(my name) loves (her name)”. The “her name” happened to be one of the school’s most popular girl, and whom till today, is my Facebook friend.
I never ever knew I was to be a writer. Heck – I know I could write, judging by the 12-page letters I’d write to my Uncle Johnny in KL every week. I never knew I had what it takes to write. Writing is a very strict discipline, one that is forged by the determination to succeed and most importantly – writing articles that people would want to read. Note – if you are falling asleep, I wouldn’t blame you!
My first job as a Manager in Shakey’s Pizza entails writing a log book every night, jotting down the day’s events so the manager on duty the next day could devise a course of action. My Area Manager one day pulled me aside and told me that he always looked forward to reading my rantings. Apparently – I had this gift of creative visualisation when writing. I was encouraged by him to join advertising.
Yes – when God taketh, He will also give something in return. He took away my ability to speak normally but gave me a greater gift – Writing. For every thing you write is etched forever to withstand the sands of time. Look at Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher. He was a stutterer. So were Demosthenes, Aesop, Claudius, Balbus Blaesius, Isaac Newton, Charles Canon Kingsley, Cotton Mather and Lewis Carroll.
in 1999 – I was asked to accompany my colleague to an advertising presentation. When that day came – she was nowhere to be seen. I had no choice but to give it my best shot. Thinking that I was only required to present my creative to one person, I confidently sauntered into the conference room. What greeted me nearly gave me a concussion. A 13-member panel comprising of the Chairman, marketing and sales director right down to the Operations manager.
I did my best. I faltered. I stuttered. Some of the faces were seen looking downwards whilst some were staring at me intently, waiting for me to pick up the pieces. I was to be decimated like a fish on a chopping board. I thought I’d have lost the account until as I was packing up my stuff, the Chairman walked over to me and shook my hand. “You got the account, young man”. I was flabbergasted. He then told me and I still can remember his words till today.
“Young man, it is not HOW you speak that makes the difference. It is WHAT you speak that separates you from others. You did a fine job and you got the account.” I was made Creative Director after that.
THE BOTTOM LINE
1) Never, ever criticize your child if he/she stammers. If you do that – you are destroying his world. Stutterers are very very sensitive people.
2) Encourage your child to read more, especially story books. It serves as a venue to escape from the harsh world and at the same time – allow him/her to discover other “hidden” potentials.
3) If your child loves to draw, let him/her draw! Creativity is not art but art is the first stepping stone towards unlocking creativity. Drawing lets you look at how to accomplish that ‘job’ in numerous ways you never thought possible.
4) If you love to write, learn first by copying others until you develop your own style.My favourite author till this day is still Neil Gaiman, the very talented author of many fantasy books like “stardust”, “neverwhere”, “american gods” and many more.
Today, I am more confident of myself and my clients never laugh at me. Instead, they laugh WITH me, and that is the difference!