The flow of time

You may recall that I have been working on a series of paintings of people actively in the process of stammering. The message that many people who stammer get during their upbringing is that you should make every effort you can to be fluent and that stammering is a failure. This narrative is sometimes promoted by sections of the speech and language therapy community but also through everyday interactions and micro aggressions.

Each of the portraits I have painted has been a small attempt to rewrite this narrative. To celebrate people stammering. To bring out our different experience of the world and not hide it away and try to eradicate it. To revel in disfluency.

This has led me to reflect on my own experience of stammering. I have become fascinated by how time passes for myself compared to fluent society. Having never been fluent myself I am making some grand assumptions here, but I guess most fluent people instantly turn thought into speech. The words are in their head and spoken in a more or less seamless process. My own experience is very different. The thought emerges and then I have the juggling game of trying to work out a phrasing that would be easier for me to say. This often produces several versions of the upcoming sentence in my head and I launch into speech trying out one route, persevering or flipping to another, reversing and trying a new tack or just deciding to move forward and block and experience that strange pausing and involuntary arresting of my speech. This self portrait is my own attempt at a sketch of what this feels like for me. It also tries to depict the creative linguistic acrobatics I experience most conversations.


A painting of Paul’s head facing to the right, eyes closed in mid stammer. Blue ribbons of paint flowing past him representing possible word substitutions


I have enjoyed Jordan Scott’s children’s book ‘I talk like a river’. It shows how on some days your speech can be gliding along on a glassy surface and on others you can be in rapids with rocks and exciting white water.

Here’s where I want to get back to the subject of time. My speech flows differently from the fluent norm. It can eddy and wallow. It can flow fast one way then divert down a rivulet to the side. It can pool and still. This takes me into a different temporal space and my listener comes with me into this new non-standardized time experience. Each stammer becomes a little act of resistance defying the relentless normal pace that speech is expected to conform to.


A painting of Paul’s head facing right in mid stammer but sections of paint are smeared from right to left like the blurring of time


I am looking into whether this can be expressed through the smudging and blurring of paint. Paint as a way of warping and stretching time. Trying out the possibilities of a disfluent brushstroke.

By Paul Aston