Lemons to Lemonade

One day in first grade, I ran up to my teacher, Ms. Perry, and said, “M-M-M…M-M-M…M-M-M Ms. PPP.”

“Jody, stop, slow down, and start over,” she said.

So, I did. “M……M……Ms. P…P…P” I said, slowly.

My first grade photo

(My first grade photo)

I was an exceptional child, only I didn’t know it at the time.

As a matter of fact, I didn’t know it until I started writing this article. While looking at my first grade report card, I noticed the words PROGRAM FOR EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN atop my final speech progress report.

With the exception of a month long course while stationed in Germany in my early twenties, the only speech therapy I received was at Jeter Primary School. Why it didn’t continue beyond third grade is beyond me, but that’s all water under the bridge at this point.

At Jeter, I had sessions with Ms. Watson, my speech therapist, biweekly. Although challenging, my time with her was special.

It’s not easy being a kid, but it’s especially difficult when you’re different. Just imagine the pain, shame, and embarrassment of not even being able to say your own name.

While in therapy, there was no pain, shame, or embarrassment.

I’m very thankful for educators and therapists who help make life better for exceptional children, particularly those with speech impediments, since that is what’s so near and dear to my heart.

Last week in Fort Worth, Texas, I spoke at a conference for therapists whose primary mission is to serve children from low-income families. The group consisted largely of speech therapists, although there were a few physical and occupational therapists sprinkled in, as well.

Ft Worth, Texas, July 19, 2013

(Ft Worth, Texas, July 19, 2013)

I received a lot of positive feedback from the attendees:

“You were the highlight of the A to Z Pediatric Therapy conference. Thanks for coming out and speaking!”

“I heard you speak today at my company’s annual meeting. You are phenomenal and an inspiration to those of us who provide speech therapy! Keep on motivating and inspiring!”

“Thank you for an amazing testimony today! It was heartfelt and inspiring! Thank you for your great service to our country and for being such an awesome role model to many! We are so grateful to have had you there with us today!”

If you had told me 30 years ago that I’d be speaking to a group of speech therapists and being paid to do so, I would’ve said, “You’re c-c-crazy!”

When I was a kid, I wanted to be anyone but me, but, today, there’s no one else I’d rather be.

No matter what challenges you have faced, are facing, or will face, I hope you feel the same way about yourself, because if you don’t love yourself, how can you expect others to?

Life is not about the hand you are dealt. It’s about how you play that hand.

My story, A Lifetime of Stuttering is featured in the new book Chicken Soup for the Soul: From Lemons to Lemonade: 101 Positive, Practical, and Powerful Stories about Making the Best of a Bad Situation.

For info on how to obtain an autographed copy, contact me at jody@jodyfuller.com.

(For info on how to obtain an autographed copy, contact me at jody@jodyfuller.com.)

Finally, at the risk of sounding arrogant, there was a time in my life where people made fun of me for the way I spoke, yet, today, people pay to hear me speak.

If that’s not turning lemons to lemonade, then I don’t know what is.

God Bless America!

Jody Fuller is a comic, a speaker, and a soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

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Enjoy the ride!

Devil's Tower National Monument in Northeast Wyoming in May 2003.

Devil’s Tower National Monument in Northeast Wyoming in May 2003.

A few weeks ago, I went to Las Vegas for a gig. I was there for 3 nights before flying back for another one in Montgomery. I flew because I had places to be and was in a hurry.

But I prefer to drive. In fact, I insist on driving when time is not an issue.

I enjoy the alone time. I enjoy having time to think. I enjoy blasting my radio to Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash, although, sometimes it’s Anne Murray, Carly Simon, and The Carpenters. It’s just me, so no one will ever know.

Oops…

carpenters

One of my favorite movies is National Lampoon’s Vacation starring Chevy Chase as the incomparable Clark W. Griswold. When asked by his children why they weren’t flying to the fictitious theme park, Walley World, Clark replied, “Because getting there is half the fun. You know that.”

I know that.

When I was in the seventh grade, we traveled in the family car to Washington DC for Spring Break. The family car was a 1980 Pinto with a spoiler.

THE 1980 Pinto with the spoiler!

THE 1980 Pinto with the spoiler!

While my mother and brother shared driving duties up front, I rode in the hatchback alongside the ham sandwiches and Piggly Wiggly sacks.

Had we flown, we would’ve missed America’s splendor along the Blue Ridge Parkway and throughout the Shenandoah Valley.

We likely would've missed a picture with the bowl-mullet, pies, and fake Members Only jacket, too.

We likely would’ve missed a picture with the bowl-mullet, pies, and fake Members Only jacket, too.

Oh, we also would’ve missed a chance encounter at a Shoney’s located 308 miles away from Opelika in Asheville, North Carolina, with our eighth grade home economics teacher, Miss Boothe.

There is just so much to see, do, and eat along the highways of America.

Another classic line from Vacation is when Clark says, “Hey, hey, easy kids. Everybody in the car. Boat leaves in two minutes… or perhaps you don’t want to see the second largest ball of twine on the face of the earth, which is only four short hours away?”

While I have yet to see the second largest ball of twine on the face of the earth, I have seen the world’s largest bottle of catsup in Collinsville, Illinois.

The world's largest bottle of catsup in 2003.

The world’s largest bottle of catsup in 2003.

Upon graduation from my Officer Basic Course at Ft. Eustis, Virginia, I was assigned to Ft. Lewis, Washington, which is a journey of 2,900. I know some people that would’ve made the trip in three or four days, but why?

I took 28 days of leave and embarked on the trip of a lifetime. I drove close to 8,000 miles and saw Yellowstone, Yosemite, Devil’s Tower, the Grand Canyon, and, yes, the world’s largest bottle of catsup.

I recently drove to Arizona for the National Stuttering Association’s annual conference. The drive out there and back added to the overall experience of the trip.

As this young man went west, I spent the first night with friends in New Orleans. We enjoyed an amazing meal at NOLA, one of Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants in the French Quarter. Bam!

The second night I had a great meal and conversation with a friend in San Antonio, before trekking through the seemingly endless West Texas at 80 MPH the next day. I stopped for barbeque, twice.

I also experienced a monsoon in rural Southern Arizona and a sandstorm in Tucson that came with tumbleweed and all. It was fabulous!

As always, I experienced a magical time at our stuttering association’s conference but knew the trip back would be the proverbial icing on the cake to what was already a wonderful trip.

On the way back, I stopped at Saguaro National Park in Southern Arizona, home to the nation’s largest cacti, before having dinner in Tombstone at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, located near the legendary O.K. Corral.

Saguaro National Park near Tucson.

Saguaro National Park near Tucson.

The next day, I was able to put a checkmark on my bucket list when I went to Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Throughout the years, I’ve been to many caverns but none quite as spectacular as these. Pictures and words simply do not do the “8th Wonder of the World” justice. I felt as if I was on another planet. I was overwhelmed. It was truly awesome.

Likewise, it was AUsome hearing a “War Eagle” from the depths of the caverns, too. Although lighting is limited throughout the cave, my orange Auburn shirt clearly stood out.

The next day saw a stop at the Botanical Gardens in Ft. Worth, as well as lunch with an Opelika buddy featuring barbeque goat.

The last day of the trip included crawfish étouffée in Shreveport, a stop at the Duck Dynasty headquarters in West Monroe, followed by a sunset at Vicksburg National Military Park along the banks of the Mississippi River before embarking on the final lonesome stretch of highway through Mississippi and Alabama.

I could’ve flown, but why?

There’s just so much to do, see, and eat along the way, but we are often in such a hurry to reach our destination that we don’t take the time to truly enjoy the ride.

Besides, getting there is half the fun. You know that.

Jody Fuller is a comic, a speaker, and a soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com

Imagine…Reflections on the National Stuttering Association’s annual conference

As one can imagine, joining the military and deploying to Iraq on three different occasions has had a profound impact on my life that I oftentimes have trouble putting into words.

The same can be said for joining the National Stuttering Association (NSA) followed by my attendance at the last three annual conferences, the most recent being last week’s conference in Scottsdale, Arizona.

This year’s conference featured inspiring keynotes from fellow stutterers Katherine Preston, author of Out with It, and NFL cornerback Trumaine McBride of the New York Giants.

Additionally, Morgan Lott previewed his new film, “This is Stuttering.”

It’s a four day conference. For any other group, it would likely be just two days, but I’m so thankful to be able to spend that extra time with so many amazing people.

Until recently, I referred to my fellow NSA members as my “stuttering” friends, which was a mistake on my part. They are awesome friends with whom I share a special bond who just happen to stutter.

My friend, Daniel, from Canada.

My friend, Daniele, from Canada.

My friend, Christine, from Indiana.

My friend, Christine, from Indiana.

I’m sure by the end of the National Pickling Convention that most people are just ready to go home, but it’s not like that with us. We truly hate saying goodbye.

I have a circle of friends there who inspire and motivate me throughout the year, and each year, that circle grows.

Make no mistake about it; the convention is not a pity party. On the contrary, it’s a fun and inspiring celebration filled with education, awareness, acceptance and empowerment.

Because of my upbringing and military service, I’ve always been a “suck it up and drive on” kind of guy, but by attending the NSA conferences, my eyes have opened up to see the challenges that many of my brothers and sisters face each and every day.

I’m always amazed at the attendees who assert to have never met another person who stutters prior to attending a conference. Imagine the shock and awe.

Growing up, I knew two other kids who stuttered, not to mention my brother and Bo Jackson.

Although I’d met countless stutterers throughout the years, I, too, was in shock and awe when I attended my first conference in Ft. Worth in 2011. Can you imagine a conference where close to 850 attendees talked like me?

Well, I need to be a little clearer about that. None of them talked like me. You see, a person’s stutter is as unique as a fingerprint or snowflake, as no two are alike.

Only 1% of the population stutters, so there’s a chance that I am the only one that some of you know and you might be saying to yourself that it’s not much of an affliction. Well, for me, at this point in my life, it’s not that big of a deal, although I still face many challenges. For others, however, it remains a very big deal.

Imagine not being able to say a loved one’s name.

Imagine not being able to order what you want at a restaurant.

We know that clear and concise communication is essential in most lines of work, so imagine being a super intelligent person and not being able to get your words out in an articulate manner.

For some of you, that’s hard to imagine.

Some stutter, stumble, or stammer on every word, whereas others speak fluently for two minutes straight and then get “stuck” for the next solid minute.

It’s not always a pretty sight.

Some close their eyes, stick out their tongue, or make seemingly exaggerated facial expressions, while others slobber and punch themselves in the leg trying to get the words to flow.

When I was in junior high school, I went through a phase where I stuttered so badly I had to literally beat the words out of myself. Oftentimes, I’d have bruises on my right hip and upper thigh. When having to read aloud during class, I’d often beat the underside of the desk. It was all good until I started beating my friends on their arms and shoulders during conversation.

My friends shied away from me and I really can’t blame them. Who wants to get beat up during a friendly conversation?

It’s tough being a stuttering kid.

In fact, it’s tough being a person who stutters, period, which is why the NSA is so vital.

The NSA is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing hope and empowerment to children and adults who stutter, their families, and professionals through support, education, advocacy, and research.

The NSA helps to empower awesome kids like my buddy Nate.

The NSA and its members help to empower awesome kids like my buddy Nate from Arizona.

Next year’s conference will be held from July 2-6 in Washington DC.

I get to do some pretty cool things throughout the year, but I’m here to tell you that the convention is always the highlight of my year. It blows me away each time. If you stutter, I highly encourage you and your family members to attend.

Speech-language pathologists are also highly encouraged to attend. Not only is it beneficial from a personal stand point, but it also qualifies as continuing education.

The beautiful and “normal” Marilyn Munster lived at 1313 Mockingbird Lane along with Frankenstein, two vampires, and a werewolf, and she was the person who was considered odd by the rest of her family. The same can be said for fluent speakers who attend the NSA conference, but just like Marilyn, we welcome them in and treat them like family.

Please join us in 2014. You won’t be disappointed, and you’ll leave there a different person.

The possibilities are endless.

Imagine.

NSA-LOGO.bmp_

Find out more information about the National Stuttering Association at http://www.westutter.org.

Jody Fuller is a comic, a speaker, and a soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

Beer, Beer, Beer

When I was in basic training, one of my favorite cadences said, “Beer, beer, beer, said the private. Merry men are we…”

I was a merry man for a long time, but I recently went 40 days and 40 nights without flooding my body with alcohol. In fact, my body experienced a drought for 40 days and 40 nights, and, the truth is, I never felt better.

On the 41st day, however, I caved in and had three beers. Ok, that sounds a bit dramatic. One of my lifelong friends came over to my house to help me do some handyman work. Actually, he did the work and I just stood there, because my handyman skills are lacking.

Once the project was completed, we did what many guys do to celebrate the completion of a project; we drank beer. He brought over a 6-pack of really good, quality beers; however, we only shared three of them. No, we didn’t use straws and we sure as heck didn’t sip from the same bottle. We poured them into a couple of beer glasses that I’d acquired from microbreweries from across the country, so I really only had one and a half. Two weeks later, the other three are still in my refrigerator.

The last three times I cut the grass, I celebrated with a large glass of lemonade while sitting in the sunshine on my deck, and I’m here to tell you, it was just as satisfying as a celebratory beer.

I didn’t drink every night. Most weeks, it was only one night out of the week, but I would drink enough that particular night to keep a small brewery afloat.

Many of us have experienced those next day regrets after a night of excess consumption. Lord knows I have. At my age, those regrets spill over a couple of days, physically, mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Did I mention physically?

I haven’t quit. I never said I quit. I’m disciplined in so many areas, so I just decided to add the consumption of alcohol to that list.

I still plan on having a beer from time to time. Beer in moderation makes me happy.

I still plan on having a beer from time to time. Beer in moderation makes me happy.

Knowing that the 10 biggest regrets of my life involve alcohol has a sobering effect (pun intended) on me. I can’t take any of them back. I can only learn and move on from here. For the record, no one was ever hurt; I just made some dumb decisions.

On the other hand, the only time alcohol ever got me in trouble was likely the best thing to ever happen to me. When I was 19, I was arrested for underage drinking which ultimately led to my decision to join the Army.

I feel confident that this new me is here to stay. I’ve been in some situations recently where I was able to maintain my discipline, whereas in the past, that would not have been the case.

I’ve frequented my favorite watering hole in Opelika on three different occasions since making the decision to scale back without falling back into the trap. Water with lemon is just as good, and so are the laughs with the fellas.

A couple of weeks ago, I spent four days and three nights in Sin City, Las Vegas, Nevada, without consuming a single drop of alcohol. That’s the equivalent of a police officer going an entire shift without a single doughnut. It’s simply unheard of.

On Sunday, I began my journey to Arizona for the National Stuttering Association’s 30th annual conference.

Because of my love of quality beer and BBQ, my cross-country escapades usually involve quite a bit of each.

I drove only a short distance that first day. I stopped in New Orleans to stay with my buddy and his family. The family stayed at home, while he and I went down to the French Quarter and ate at Emeril Lagasse’s NOLA, which was an absolute joy. I did have one really good local brew before dinner, but only because we had to wait a bit before being seated. We also had Emeril’s New Orleans BBQ Shrimp for an appetizer.

One beer in New Orleans is like one pair of jean shorts to a Bama fan. It’s simply unheard of.

I had dinner with water and a friend at The Cheesecake Factory in San Antonio on day two. We had a great dinner and conversation, in spite of the absence of alcohol. In the past, that would have simply been unheard of.

On day three, I drove the final 15 hours and arrived at the conference around 11:00 PM.

I’m sure some interesting stories will arise from this week’s conference. They always do.

For example, did you know that when there are three stuttering guys in a small room that the lights start to flicker? It’s a phenomenon similar to the Northern Lights. Now you know.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that I had three beers last night, although it wasn’t entirely my fault. I ordered just one, but my stuttering prevailed and the bartender misunderstood me.

“Beer, beer, beer, said the captain,” he thought.

I’m convinced that the secret to happiness is discipline. Whether it’s beer, BBQ, fishing or women, quality is always better than quantity.

Speaking of quantity, I just realized I’ll have to cut the grass when I get home. Yuck! Oh well, at least I’ll have an ice cold glass of lemonade waiting on me afterwards.

Cheers!

PS…I didn’t really have three beers last night.

Only one drink so far at the NSA conference and that was this glass of wine.

Only one drink so far at the NSA conference and that was this glass of wine.

Jody Fuller is a comic, a speaker, and a soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.