A labor to talk: Michael Turner explores stuttering in documentary

January 2016 Posted in Arts, Culture & History, People
Documentary filmmaker Michael Turner

Documentary filmmaker Michael Turner

By Kristine Thomas

Scotts Mills resident and documentary filmmaker Michael Turner spent a majority of his life not talking about his stuttering, firmly believing if he didn’t talk about it, it would magically disappear.

“I first remember stuttering when I was 8 years old,” Turner, 31, said during an interview at Main St. Bistro & Coffee in Silverton. “I always thought it was my fault that I stuttered and that I was doing something wrong that made me stutter. Most of my life, it was a challenge to talk.”

Growing up, he did what he could to fit in and not become a target of teasing. To this day, he said, he still has people who mimic his stuttering.

“Stuttering was something I didn’t like about myself and I didn’t know how to change,” he said.

Turner explained on the surface, “stuttering is syllable repetitions, prolongations, blocks and various physical tics.”

Although he attended speech therapy sessions, it wasn’t until he was in his mid-20s that he delved into learning about stuttering. And his discovery inspired him to make a documentary about stuttering.

Turner invites the community to a showing of The Way We Talk Saturday, Jan. 30 at 2 p.m. at the Palace Theatre in downtown Silverton.

The movie received the 2015 Oregon Media Arts Fellowship and it has been shown at the Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival, the Eugene International Film Festival, Doernbecher’s Children’s Hospital and many venues across the U.S.

The Way We Talk screening
Free public screening of
“The Way We Talk”
Saturday, Jan. 30, 2 p.m.
Palace Theatre,
200 N. Water St., Silverton

Documentarian Michael Turner
will answer questions after the movie.
For more information on the movie,
visit www.thewaywetalk.org.

The Salem Stuttering Support Group
meets the second Sunday of the month.
Broadway Coffeehouse,
1300 Broadway St. NE, #100, Salem
The next meeting is Sunday, Feb. 14.

For information, email Turner
at salemstutters@gmail.com

Stuttering, Turner said, is like “an iceberg with the major symptoms below the surface. Emotions caused by the disorder – anxiety, depression, denial and a negative self-image – are rarely confronted in speech therapy or even by people who stutter.”

Turner said his grandfather, Harry; mother, Elizabeth; and younger brother, Ryan, all stutter.

“I never talked about it with my younger brother,” he said, “until I started making the film.”

He said making the documentary gave he and his brother  a chance to talk about it. The documentary will be showing in their hometown, Los Angeles, in February.

Attending the Portland chapter of the National Stuttering Association in 2012 was the first step in changing Turner’s perception of himself and stuttering.

“I had pictured my life as an adult as someone who didn’t stutter,” he said. “I was 26 or 27 years old and it seemed like every year of my life that my stuttering got more severe and I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I was desperate for something that would make it better. I wanted to get rid of it.”

By attending the support group, he realized he wasn’t alone and that were other people who felt like he did.

He also began exploring other alternatives besides speech therapy to help.

“Every person who said their name when they introduced themselves stuttered,” Turner said. “It’s a moment I won’t forget. In my life, I rarely came in contact with people who stuttered. I didn’t say much at the first meeting but just listened to people share their stories.”

When listening to people’s stories, it was the first time he had words to describe what he was feeling.

“I had stuttered my whole life but didn’t know how to say what I was feeling,” he said.

And that’s where he got the inspiration to make the documentary, sharing the stories of those who stutter.

“I joked making the film was pretty much an excuse to hang out with all the people in the support group,” he said. “When I met each of them, I felt close to them right away because they understood.”

It’s his hope that the stories in the documentary are “relatable to anyone who has experienced feelings of separateness, isolation or inadequacy in any area their life, and are trying to make the most of who they are.”

From his research for the film, Turner learned there are Egyptian hieroglyphics about stuttering and Aristotle wrote about it.

He also learned stuttering has been studied by doctors, pychologists, biologists and others to discover the cause.

“Even now, stuttering is a medical mystery,” Turner said. “They don’t know why people stutter. There is a gene linked to it, but they have found in identical twins one will stutter and the other won’t.”

He said he knows people who can sing perfectly every word, but stutter during a conversation or whisper without stuttering but stutter when speaking in a normal voice.

“There’s a young man in the film from Sublimity who has a severe stutter,” Turner said. “He likes to rap and when he does, he’s completely fluent.”

In his own experience,Turner tried to find a pattern in his stuttering, but couldn’t.

There are times when he is talking to an intimidating person and he doesn’t stutter but will talk to his wife, Alyssa, and will stutter and visa versa.

By talking about stuttering, Turner said, it has made his life richer. He’s grateful for the new friends he has met through the support group in Portland. Now he is starting a support group in Salem. He’s also thankful he and his brother can talk about iy.

“I have more to work on, but by talking about my stuttering, I am a more authentic version of myself,” Turner said.

He said the goal of the film is to raise awareness about stuttering and to hopefully help others.

“The film is my outlet to talk about stuttering,” he said. “Everybody has something in their life that makes them feel isolated or different or alone. When we are open about those things, they are really what connect us to each other.”

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