Remembering Ed Mysak
by Geoffrey Mangers
|I actually know very little about Ed
Mysak's professional background.
But will tell you of what I experienced of him personally.
Dr. Edward Mysak (now deceased) was Chairman of the Speech Pathology and Audiology Dept. at Teacher's College, Columbia University. I understand his specialties were stuttering and cerebral palsy.
I originally started the "N.Y. Assoc. of Stutterers" with meetings at my apartment in Brooklyn Heights (after I moved there from St. Louis around '75). Starting with ads in the Village Voice in their bulletin board on the back page. My stepfather knew Mysak and suggested I meet him (originally looking for a job actually, thinking my BSEE might be useful somehow in their Speech Science dept.). I wound up elsewhere, but later found myself renewing my contact with him. After which he invited our group to meet in the evenings in his own personal conference room atop Thorndike Hall.
I remember when I first met Jules North (an executive at ABC) at our meetings. I liked Jules (a wise and savvy skeptic) who impressed me by checking around about Mysak. After which he told me with incredulity (he might as well have just said "whew" rolling up his eyes and "giving up") that all he discovered for all his efforts was that Mysak turns out to be some sort of saint in the field.
I'm particularly grateful to him for helping to direct me into some competent therapy I could afford. After which I could finally start to feel that lifelong stuttering stranglehold start to ease. The glacier was starting to crack. I had reason for hope. As I felt those blocks begin to "melt in my mouth". And I was completely sold on VanRiper: "you've got the best therapy in my book" I told him on the phone afterwards. "I have no therapy" Van told me. And invited me to visit him. I wish I could have afforded it and had the time and energy to do so. But didn't tell him that. Anyway, I'm glad I at least had those words I did with him on the phone while he was still with us.
But I couldn't sell our members on therapy. "Of course they're skeptical! You can't blame them for being skeptical" Mysak told me (as he reflected their anger and frustration to me) in a phone conversation one day. He didn't have to say it: if you try everywhere getting nothing but ineffectual therapy over the years, you "don't want to hear about it" anymore.
I'd always enjoy his attendance at our meetings. He had a refreshing way of "cutting through the crap" and telling it like it is. And I know when it came to us stutterers, he was all heart. I asked him at one meeting why he cared so much about us. He said it all began during the war (WW-II, I think) when a friend of his became a laryngectomee. I asked him once who he thought had the best therapy. Without hesitation: VanRiper.
I remember Hana commenting about finding herself stuttering more since coming to our meetings. Mysak told her "Hana, a clinician would say you're making progress" It brought some chuckles as she commented about stuttering more but enjoying it less.
He told us about "TTT" and "BFL". Encouraging us to keep up our "TTT" ("Total Talking Time"). The more we talk, the more it helps to overcome stuttering, "keep the vocal instrument exercised" you might say. Silence is *not* golden for us. The more we withdraw and hide, the more those fears grow "as the instrument rusts". An analogy he gave us in baseball was to "play the ball, don't let the ball play you" ( .. yeah, well "that’s easy for *him* to say" :) .. interesting for me: in grade school, they'd always place me far out in "left field" where everyone would aim for me knowing I'd be terrified of those 'incoming' missiles).
But the chemistry of self-confidence ("playing the ball")
is not inherent in us, it comes
from the Environment. You can't do it alone .. you will
need a support system (Sheehan knew how important it was to have those
to help one over the hurdles--and they are immense). The shame is learned and inherent in the
social milieu we've grown up in. Overcoming it requires an
environment that reverses a lifetime of learned shame. And which
is why I so very much believe in the stuttering self-help
movement. As Mysak also did, telling us at one
meeting, "..we don't know anything .. you're the
experts .. what can we learn from
you?" -- those are the kind of words that you hear from a top-notch expert in the stuttering field.
And I learned so much from him in the unfortunately little time I was
able to spend with him.
Explanation: "voluntary stuttering" is "stuttering on purpose". It's purpose is to help (hopefully) with "desensitisation". As VanRiper would say "to be able to touch the snake of your own stuttering without flinching". It's still a real struggle for me often in public. But I understand the dynamic: "assert your right to stutter in the world". Because there is an extremely strong psychological component to stuttering for most of us (at least there has been for myself). Much of its intensity is caused by the simple fear of it. Society seldom if ever rewards us for it. And that stigma is very powerful. So we must hide it at all costs. That is to say, much of stuttering is caused by our attempting to suppress it. Like Tourette's. But "stuttering will out"--"why bother?", eh? But "that's easy for me to say".. I can do voluntary stuttering pretty effortlessly and comfortably in our support groups where stuttering is absolutely no problem for me (I'm occasionally questioned about my 'credentials' by newcomers, as I used to do myself to our fluent members, when I first became involved in our support groups in the early 70's, now I have to deal with these little snots myself..). Anyway, like I said, it can still be a struggle in public--that stove still has significant heat left to extinguish for me there. Peter Ramig told me (way back, at a Speak Easy Symposium .. or was it the IFA Conference..?..), he's gotten it down to "warm" in public. I'd settle for "warm"..
Offhand, I forgot what it was I had to call him about a few years after I moved out here (maybe early 80's) to Calif.
But what I remember are his first words to me on the phone before I could even ask my question:
"Oh Geoffrey, how can we get you back here?"
They are also the last words that I can remember of him.