Matice Morris adjusts the camera set on a tripod under a glowing ring light. She moves the throw pillow behind her, pulls up her notes on her phone and takes a sip of water. She peers closer at her image on the small flip screen and wipes a smudge of lipstick from her teeth.
She pushes record — beep.
It’s time to slay the dragons.
“Hi, you guys,” she says. Then, she’s stuck. Her chin trembles, eyes squint, her lips are pursed and the words refuse to budge.
“I’m going to start over,” she says. “I know I haven’t recorded in a while,” she starts. She hits a roadblock on the next word.
Morris, 30, started speech therapy because of her stuttering in first grade. For 10 years, she worked with professionals to help her words flow more fluently. After middle school, she moved from Rockford, Illinois, to a new high school in St. Louis. She spent the entire first semester eating lunch in a restroom stall. She didn’t want to start with the halting introductions again. Blank stares. Uncomfortable pauses.
Sometimes, she stutters on her own name.
By her junior year, she had made friends and had enough with speech therapy. She tended to stay quiet in groups and communicated mainly through texting and social media messages. Her words flow so much faster when she can type them, but still not as fast as her mind is thinking them.
Now, in front of the camera, she’s starting to sweat. She picks up a poster and fans herself.
“I’ve noticed a trend in the comments of all you saying my stuttering has improved,” she says to more than 27,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel.
But, to someone with a life-long stutter, that’s actually not a compliment, she explains.
“It kind of makes them feel like a failure when they have not improved,” Morris says. She’s posted more than 50 videos since she launched the channel two and a half years ago.
She wanted to encourage other people with speech impediments and to share what it’s like to struggle to speak. She wanted to reclaim her voice.
It took her three years after graduating with a master’s degree in accounting to get a job because potential employers had trouble seeing past her speech. One recruiter told her it would be difficult to help her because employers would assume she was mentally challenged based on the way she talked.
The obstacles only made her more determined.
“My goal is to conquer my fears,” she said. “Even when I am nervous or stressed or scared about my stutter, I still make the video.”
Not only has she built a significant following online, she has self-published a book, “The Product of My Selfishness: The Stutter and the Story.” In sharing her story, she has inspired others who ask her for advice on how to navigate school and relationships. Among them, she also deals with a few ignorant and hurtful remarks.
Morris pulls up the screenshots she took of a commenter who wrote that she would rather just learn sign language. When Morris responded, the poster replied: ”thank God you wrote that because it probably would’ve took u forever to say it!” In her next response, the person curses at Morris and writes, ”continue giving us, the ppl, a good laugh!”
At this point, Morris’ mother steps into the comments and tells her daughter to stay focused and remember the words of former first lady Michelle Obama: “When they go low, we go high.”
The video Morris is trying to make tonight is not going well — probably because I’m watching her record it and making a stressful situation even more so.
“I might have to re-record this later,” she said, after switching the camera off.
She pulls up the last public message she received from the critic who taunted her.
“I want to apologize to you for my previous comments,” the commenter wrote. “It was never my intention to come at you in such a manner and it might have been delivered wrong.”
“She’s literally the only person who has ever apologized.”
Her biggest fear is speaking on a stage in front of a crowd. It’s far more intimidating than talking into her camera.
So, now she’s been looking for the right opportunity to speak live.
Another dragon to slay.