Monday, August 8, 2011

On July 21, 2011, I was more than I thought I could be!

Good evening everyone,

"I want one moment in time, when I am more than I thought I could be, when all of my dreams are a heartbeat away, and the answers are all up to me. Give me one moment in time, when I am bracing with destiny, and in that one moment of time, I will feel....I will feel...eternity."

That line was brought to you by Whitney Houston, one of the best-known voices from my generation. I could quote some of the songs that have defined an era: "Saving All My Love For You," "Didn't We Almost Have It All," "So Emotional," and "I Will Always Love You." That was theme for the 1988 Summer Olympics held in Seoul, South Korea. And the video captured the raw angst, the pain, and the glory that for any competitor lasts forever. No matter how old you get, or what Olympics you competed in, people will always remember what you did. "There's that gold medal winner," is a sentence that follows you the rest of your life.

The more I think about the Olympics, in many ways, these past four years have been a tournament that I have trying so hard to win. But my ultimate prize was not made of chemicals. And it certainly wasn't presented to me by any official at the games. My "prize" if you will wasn't something tangible. Not money, not love, but a job. I wanted to work more than anything else in the world at a full-time job.

We don't have to open up the local newspaper or turn on the news to see what is happening in the economy. Every time I check Yahoo! or the New York Times, it's on the front page. The images are so ingrained into our psyche that's just so hard to forget. Stockbrokers with their hands on their faces, so exasperated. The grim feelings of hope loss, desperation taking its place. Living on the suburbs of Long Island, a mere 45 minutes away from New York City, you have access to all the financial data you want. But these days you may not want to see it and know what's going on. After all, why ask the question if you know what the answer is going to be?

I graduated with my journalism degree, and although I still love writing (and do freelance and this blog of course), I grew disillusioned with the opportunities that were out there. And after having a rough experience with attorneys, I decided that I had to make some goals and stick to them. I wanted to work for the federal government. I had tried applying in the private sector, and never raised the white flag, despite the rejections and efforts which I felt at times were futile. And I admit, I am a very unique person in the sense that sometimes it does take me a little longer to play "catch up." I have minor characteristics of Asperger's and at times I may learn a little slower than the rest of the world. But no one, under any circumstances, should question my heart. That's the one thing that has grown tremendously over these past few years.

There is a theory that hard work is its own reward. Looking for a job in many ways is like that. The local classifieds have shriveled up, whereas at one time you may have had five or six pages of ads from companies that were more than willing to take a chance on you. Now you're lucky if it's one or two. I would stay up until the wee hours of the morning, being a night owl. I'd send out fifty resumes a day via Monster, and Craigslist. I'd research the names of companies that ran advertisements, even when they did not want to be found. And sometimes I'd get lucky...only to discover that my message was returned with a scammer e-mail, saying there was a personal assistant job for me working from home for some reclusive billionaire. Good luck with that.

I had interviews these past two months with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one of the biggest federal agencies located in Bethesda, Md. Although I was very excited about the chance to meet with representatives of that organization, I always told myself to stay grounded. Interviews in this age come few and far between. Now of course, you want to put your best foot forward: best suit, confident personality. But I'd be lying if I thought in the back of my mind that things would materialize. After all, even the most confident of people would tell you that the worst thing that show itself is arrogance. Confidence is one thing. Feelings of entitlement are another.

And on July 21, I did it. Walt Whitman might have said it best: "O Captain, O Captain, our fearless trip is done. The prize we sought has been won." I got the job! After four years, one journey is over, and another one soon begins. I don't mean the journey down the New Jersey Turnpike to I-95 via the Fort McHenry Tunnel, looping around the Capital Beltway and merging with I-270 north. The greatest journey of my life is about to start. Being on my own, having a chance to live on my terms because I am a person who stutters and no one holds me back. No one is going to tell me what I can and cannot do.

What bothers me is that many times people are quick to say things to the effect of "I want to thank all of you who hated me and told me I would never get to this point." In my opinion, all you did is just completely devalue yourself as a person. Who cares what others may say? YOU have to, make that NEED to, hold yourself to higher standards. I am not interested in "haterade," or giving the "haters" their due. Life is much more important than that. I can go at my own pace, and not worry about what others may think of me.

I do give all the praise and glory to the National Stuttering Association for this achievement. I am very honored to advocate on their behalf and will continue to do so until the day I am no longer on this earth.

I hope those reading this understand that my blog entries will be a little more wide now in terms of when I can write. I am not going away, but even so while I am in another state, I will continue to share my thoughts, just with not as much frequency. But if anyone out there sees this, understand one thing: Nothing is ever impossible. Sometimes it may take four years, or longer. But I am now ready for the next challenge. More so than I have ever been in a while. You too, will be ready. Your time will come.

It ain't about how fast you get there. It ain't about what's waiting on the other side. It's the climb.

Monday, July 18, 2011

God Blessed Texas and the NSA Nation!!!

Good evening everyone,

I'd like to start off by saying how elated I am to be returning to my blog and sharing all things stuttering with this special community all over the world. Since my absence has been a few weeks, I want to make it up to you by sharing some experiences from a very special National Stuttering Association conference. For those who have read my blog frequently, you know how I speak of this special event with great admiration and a true love for my fellow people who stutter and the accomplishments we celebrate. But was 2011 ever a year for celebrating!!!

The buzz for our conference always hits a fever pitch about three weeks before, when we know it is so close at hand. Well, not this year. Try imagining it a few months before. We confirmed that attendance records would be shattered, and they were. We broke 800 for the first time, ever. Every year, the number of first-time attendees grows. This year, we had 300!!!! We had many new presenters step forward to give workshops and seminars. I have had the pleasure of presenting a few of them (2008 in Parsippany, N.J., 2009 in Scottsdale, Ariz., and 2010 in Cleveland, Ohio) but this time around, I took a step back and watched many new members embrace the challenges. Although I am not married (and aren't sure if I ever will), I can say emphatically that in a way, I will always be married to the NSA. It is because of my work with them that has shown me how to fully develop and mature into the type of person I want to be. It is because of them that I can lecture at universities, write this blog to reach all who stutter, and give a voice to those who want to speak, but are hurting and very afraid.

We held our conference at the Renaissance Worthington, located right in the heart of downtown Fort Worth, Texas, known as the "Gateway to the American South," and "Where the West begins." Although I had been to Texas once (in Houston), I had no idea what I was really in for. Although Fort Worth is 30 miles from Dallas via I-30, Fort Worth had always been portrayed as "the way Texas was meant to be seen." So if you were thinking of cowboys, the Wild West, and history, then you've come to the right city. Dallas is very cosmopolitan and modern, yet there are few places that retain its charm. As I flew into Love Field on Southwest and started my journey to the hotel, the only thing that was going through my mind was my experiences crossing the Bay Bridge in Maryland on Route 50. The Annapolis (Bay) Bridge connects the Eastern Shore of Maryland, which is very rural and known for its slower way of life surrounded by pristine beaches and a big fishing community, with the western part of the state (i.e. Baltimore and the Washington DC suburbs), and upon crossing the bridge, it felt like you stepped through the galaxy portal into a whole other universe and you're blown away completely.

As soon as I entered the doors of the hotel, my eyes would lay to rest on some of the most charismatic members in the NSA that I know, and the shouts are so loud, yet filled with unrestrained glee. In essence, the NSA conference could be described as an overgrown camp for people who stutter. We laugh, we cry, we share, we dream, we do, and we catch up with each other about what has been going on in our lives. I make sure to arrive on Tuesday, because once the conference kicks off Wednesday night, it goes faster than a DeLorean that hits 55. But don't worry, you're not transported back in time....yet.

Wednesday night we kicked off NSA 2011 with a choice of a night out at Six Flags over Texas, or seeing the Texas Rangers host Baltimore. I'm not much of a theme park person, never was. (Probably having dreams of being suspended over the park upside down was enough to turn me off to it). So myself and 200 others took in the Rangers game with 30,000 other fans. What an incredible experience! There's something classic about enjoying a game under the stars with a hot dog, cold beer (or ice cold water, which was in plentiful supply-it did not get below 100 degrees all the days we were there) and just talking with soon-to-be best friends. You laugh at the fact that you may be in your thirties and doing the Wave. Or how in the bottom of the fifth inning, your whole section breaks into singing "Deep In The Heart of Texas." For four days, we were all Texans by the grace of God!

I get so much faith and tremendous strength by watching the young children and teens turn themselves into young men and women as they will be the next generation of NSA leaders. I know I repeat myself often on this blog, but if I do, it's only because it's true. This is one place where age is just a number. At 13 years of age, these children have confidence I never had but desperately wanted to call my own. I learn from conference veterans in their fifties and sixties (and beyond!) and teens and twentysomethings can learn from me being 33. I've been where they are going. If I can save one person from having a painful experience, then it will all have been worth it to me. Friday night a group of us went to the Stockyards in historic Fort Worth and walked around to see what life was like back in the day....more like 200 years ago though. I left early to help one of my friends, who is comedienne who stutters, make her debut at Rick O' Shea's. About 150 members came out to cheer her on, and she was just unstoppable with her jokes. A few years ago, mention the words "stuttering comedienne" and you would have heard "Yeah..r-i-i-i-i-ght. Good luck with that." It's amazing what stuttering can fact, it could help you develop talents you never even knew you had! Maybe somewhere out there is a person who stutters that was given a play music, to create, to build....but they don't know they have it!

And then there was Saturday. The NSA was able to bring David Seidler, the Academy-Award winning writer of "The King's Speech," to be our keynote speaker. Mr. Seidler is the only person who could be introduced, get a two-minute ovation, and not have to say anything. But he did. He regaled us with his stories of growing up in London and coming over to America. He shared with us how his stuttering shaped us. And when he said "My name is David, I'm a person who stutters, and I am proud of it," the crowd just exploded into sheer ecstasy. Not only that, but he was truly a gentleman and signed posters and photos for us, and he took the liberty to personalize them. He did not have to do that at all. If that does not tell you the type of person he is, then I'm sorry, but I can't help you. We had a closing ceremony where one parent spoke about her son's stutter, and started to break down and apologize. She apologized to her own son for not listening, not understanding, and she begged forgiveness. I began to weep on my own. A police officer spoke about how he nearly turned around after being ten minutes from the hotel, but was so glad he didn't. And there was this unforgettable moment: Every year, we have a series of "Open Mike" sessions where anyone who stutters can get up and share any stories they want. A young man who was in his twenties came up and said that there was a young woman who stuttered so severely that she barely spoke during the conference. He then said something to the effect of "I will not say who this person is in the room, but I know if we encourage this person to get up and speak, she'll do so!" The room quickly turned into cheers and loud roars, and when the young woman got up, it reached a crescendo. "My name is D-m-m-m-m-D-D-D-a-nnn-yela," she stated, to even more loud applause. That says it is all about what a powerful, amazing community we really have.

The closing banquet for me is always emotional, especially during the last ten minutes. It even hit closer to home because we danced to "DJ Stutter," who is a real-life person who stutters but also performs in his hometown at the local club scene. When you realize the end really is near and you won't see these people for another year, the dam begins to burst and the tears flow. And you know that no matter how frustrated you get, how you long to give them one more goodbye before they go to the airport, the days will move by fast and soon enough there will be another conference in 2012.

The past few days, I've been playing "You're Gonna Miss This" by Trace Adkins frequently, and if you listen to the lyrics in the chorus, it makes perfect sense. Especially if you are a first-timer, but we can all relate to it:

"You're gonna miss this, you're gonna want this back, you're gonna wish these days hadn't gone by so fast, these are some good times, so take a good look around, you may not know it now....but you're gonna miss this."

We already do. Just remember, it ain't about how fast you get there, and it ain't about what's waiting on the other side. It's the climb.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

And now introducing myself as....Knight Rider?!

Hello everyone,

If you're a movie buff, this is the best time of the year. This is the season when Hollywood unveils the big guns, the blockbusters, which they will hope will fill their coffers with money spent by the fans to ask up the best experience that their twenty dollars will buy-a plush seat on a Saturday night, a slam-bang two hours worth of loud explosions with pulse-pounding scenes that can make your jaw drop, all presented in IMAX glory. Yet for some reason, I'm not into that at all. But the one thing about the summer movies for me is the stories they present. I've always been attracted to the "lone hero"-the avenger who finds himself pursuing a calling out of some personal reason-loss, pain, angst, so much to the point that he/she actually finds himself becoming an anti-hero: questioning all they ever believed in, wondering what their future holds. I guess that's why I have always been attracted to reruns of "Knight Rider."

Although I was not born in the 1980s (officially 1978), I like to think of myself as forever trapped in the decade in terms of culture. I still listen to eighties music, and can recite the most popular lines from "Top Gun" and "The Breakfast Club." ("There are no points for second best."). And when I used to come home from my part-time job at the Milleridge Village at 5 p.m., as soon as my car pulled up at the house, I'd dart through the door, and turn on Channel 9, WWOR-TV. And as soon as I'd hear the words, "A shadowly flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist," I knew I was in my element. The voiceover, which was done by Richard Basehart, would go "Michael Knight. A young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, the powerless. In a world of criminals who operate above the law." The show was deemed, by creator Glen Larson, as "The Lone Ranger with a car, the soul of a western." It was also the show that launched David Hasselhoff's career. The main story was that Michael Long was an undercover detective in Las Vegas who was nearly fatally injured. A reclusive billionaire named Wilton Knight rescues him and gave him a new identity, Michael Knight, and he was working for the Foundation for Law & Government with a souped-up special car, that possessed technology way ahead of its time. And every week, Knight would came to the aid of a person trying to do good but facing enemies who did not want that person to succeed.

But despite the fact at the end of the episode that everything worked out, you always knew there was a sense of something missing from Knight's past. A feeling that no matter what happened, or how many times the show aired, he would never have what he really wanted. In the episode "White Bird," the theme rang true. Michael came to the rescue of an ex-fiancee whom he was scheduled to wed, but he became Michael Knight and never saw her again, until he realized she was about testify in a court case. All those romantic feelings came back, and he had to make a painful choice: one that most of us in that situation could never fathom.
For many years of my life, I was what you might see as a "Knight Rider." Traveling from table to table in the high school and college cafeterias, searching the Internet for message boards and web sites that I could post my thoughts about stuttering on, to no avail. But now, that has all changed. Ever since I got involved with the National Stuttering Association, I found my drive and my commitment. Maybe I'll never drive a car like KITT was. Or fly a helicopter like Airwolf.

But if they ever made my life story into a "Knight Rider" episode, maybe the voiceover will sound a little something like this:

"Steven Kaufman. An outspoken advocate and leader on a crusade to enlighten the world about stuttering awareness. Operating in a world where most people misunderstand, bringing the shining beacon of light through the darkness."

Just maybe, you can be your own version of "Knight Rider" too.

My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Letters to my dad for Father's Day....

Dear Dad,

I realize that Father's Day has passed as of the midnight hour, and you may have been wondering why I did not get a card from you. The honest truth is that what I want to say really can't all be written down in a card. And then again, nor do I want it to be either. After a while giving the same old greeting card becomes blasé and all played out. And I figured it was time for a new approach, one that hit me when we were at the Mets game yesterday. It's funny how inspiration can come at you from the most oddest of places.

These past few years my feelings toward you have been festering for so long. Although I am 33 now, in many ways I barely know you anymore. Most of our conversations now take place at hockey games, and those are limited too. It's the same thing when I walk through the door, or when you come home from your job fairs. It just consists of "Hi, how are you?" and barely anything more than that. They say tomorrow is promised to no one, and while we often dismiss that with a roll of the eyes, the sad thing is that it actually is true. I do not know how much time you have left, hopefully a great deal. But the first thing I wanted to say in this letter is that I forgive you for many things that have taken place over these past few years.

I forgive you first of all for causing my intense fear of rain and thunderstorms. I know that you do get immense pleasure of watching me run into the television viewing room when the meteorologist talk about severe thunderstorms taking aim at our viewing area. I discussed this with Larry and stated that ever since you hit me with a shoe when I was thirteen because I cursed you out to your face, you have been responsible for the association of my feelings toward severe weather and that is why I feel I have to stay up all night with the radio to "ride the storm out" until it is safe for me to sleep. I know you think it is hysterically funny to poke fun at my views and desire to live in an area where it doesn't rain all that often where I can finally be happy. I've spent too many years of my life running, and while I have gotten good at it, I do not want to do it anymore. I know your emotions probably got the better of you, and while you wish you could take it back, you cannot to do so. But I want you to know it is OK now. You were a different person back then. Parents are infallible too, much as they like to think they may know it all.

The second thing that I want to let you know is that while I am your son, in many ways while you may think I am hotheaded and stubborn, we are more alike as well. I know sometimes I am very outspoken and that has gotten me in trouble. But I am at a place now where I am learning to balance myself and ask whether what I will say is going to be correct and appropriate. In many ways, having a leadership role at the National Stuttering Association was probably the best thing that ever could happen to me, because it forced me to be aware of what it means to be an adult and know that people are looking at you to be a role model.

I know that you have often felt like I should have turned out more like Philip in terms of being productive and more responsible with my life. I am not proud of a lot of things I have done, and in many things, I could be a lot further along with achieving my goals than where I am now. I know it's kind of hard to not compare yourself to others, but I know now that life is not a race, and he who dies with the most toys necessarily doesn't win.

I would really like the chance to formulate some relationship with you because I don't want to end up as another person wishing they had the chance to turn the clock back when things are too late. I always used to feel so much hatred toward you in terms of my speech that my attitude was "God forgives, I don't." But now I see there are shades of gray in everything and it doesn't always have to be "either it's right, or it's wrong." I even blamed you and Mom for my stuttering because in some way, maybe you feel guilty about it. But it's no one's fault. This is the hand I have to play. And I like to think so far, I've played it very well, and continue to do so.

It took a lot for me to want to write this letter and get all my thoughts out to you. I hope maybe someday you and Mom will want to visit a future NSA conference and see what the greatest thing in my life is all about. If you don't, I will respect your decision. But it's safe to say because of the NSA, your son has made huge quantum leaps in his life.

To my dad, Happy Father's Day.



Monday, May 23, 2011

Spindarella cut it up one time! Let's talk about stuttering and why it is not fear....

Good evening everyone,

Before I begin my latest edition of the blog, I want to personally welcome and acknowledge each of you, my followers, who take time out of their day to read and think about my reflections on stuttering. I know that free time is at a premium in today's world, and many of us say "thank you," without even realizing that it needs to be genuine-we often say it just because it is polite. So please allow me to give a genuine, heartfelt "Thank you" to each of you. Regardless of where you live in this world, you are not only my friends, but my greatest allies in the world of stuttering. Together we devote all of our energies to make not only our world, but yours and mine, just a little bit more tolerant, a little more grateful.

The greatest thing about being a blogger, in my eyes, is not only the chance to impact my life and others, but to also learn about things from experiences of other people in my life who shape my values, not only as a person, but what I expect from myself as a human being. One of these individuals I happened to have the pleasure of meeting a few years ago at a charity gala for Our Time Theatre in New York City. You may have heard me mention how phenomenal I think Our Time is. Our Time was founded by an actor who stutters and it is a place where children who stutter can express themselves in a free, non-judgmental environment, based on love of performing arts and the theatre. Every year the children write plays and perform them, and there is a grand gala fundraiser which further helps to spread stuttering awareness. The person I met, "Mikaela," is also a writer and blogger (as well as a person who stutters), and is dating a young man whom I have had the chance to hang out with ,"Bobby," at several National Stuttering Association conferences. For a few years, they have lived together in Cook County, Ill., home to the City of Big Shoulders and the Second City, better known as Chicago, or Chi-town, or any other nickname you can identify the city by. That is, until a few months ago, when Mikaela and Bobby decided to leave the Midwest for New York City.

I am a firm believer in honoring the official writer's code, so I want to give her the full credit with regard to her feelings. She writes "As the snow formed four foot walls down the semi-ploughed roads, we were paying three times our old rent in Chicago. It was a baptism by fire and there were times when we questioned our sanity." She was scared. She was worried. Yet she was also doing whatever she wanted because she happens to have completed a book about stuttering that will be picked up by a publisher.

We often have moments in our life when we ask ourselves "What if I chose that? What if I had made a different decision?" without wondering what will happen. Sadly we do not have the preview of having a "coming attraction" in life and seeing what will develop. But I see people around me are not letting fear stand in their way of doing what they want. I just found out that a member of the NSA, who is a fellow chapter leader like I am, is actually going off to law school at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., and he's in his late forties. But if you want any further proof that fear does not have to stand in your way, consider the upcoming National Stuttering Association conference in Fort Worth, Texas.

The workshop rosters were presented in the newsletter, "Letting GO," and I always love seeing who will be among the select few who will be sharing their experiences with us as presenters. I do want to emphasize, though, that you need not be a presenter in order to share with everyone. We are all educators when it comes to stuttering. Last year in Cleveland, I continued to see the evolving signs that the NSA is truly a global organization. I had the pleasure of meeting with "Robert," a man from Israel who stutters. This was his first conference and I spent a good deal of time talking to him over dinner, introducing him to many other members. I also explained to him there is nothing to be afraid of when it comes to stuttering-but rather, think of it as being excited-you are excited because you are part of a very special community, where you can have the chance to be part of a conference where we all celebrate everything stuttering is. This is one of my favorite lines to use: "What stuttering is, what it can be, and what it will be."

What it will NEVER be is fear. I promise you that.

My name is Steven Kaufman, and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to describe your stuttering experiences in one word....Go!

Hello everyone,

We all have different routines that take place after work. For some of us, we're the first out the door when our workday is over. Others may spend a few minutes checking their BlackBerry or other PDA while juggling a conversation about what will be on the dinner table. The last few weeks, whenever I leave work, I've found myself listening to "Intelligence For Your Life," otherwise known as The John Tesh Radio Show. Syndicated from Los Angeles, and airing here on WKJY/98.3, the show (as well as his web site, offer valuable tips and great suggestions on all kinds of topics with every type of situation you can think of.

As I was perusing the site yesterday, I came across a phrase that stuck in my mind for a few hours: "The Great Humbling." According to career coach Judith Gerberg, who was cited in the article, there's been a drastic increase in unemployment among college-educated men 35-64, almost double what it was before the recession took place. Now, there seems to be a great shift in attitude, which is going a long way toward helping others find a good position.

I often ask myself how I can describe the experiences of being a person who stutters with one word. Many times when I have spoken to graduate students I am asked various questions, but never in that form. I think it is one of the most difficult things to try and answer something with one word. But if you pin me down and ask that of me, I would say "Stuttering has made me humble."

I've met many people who stutter and while the National Stuttering Association's conference has been viewed as the first day of the rest of your lives (which is emphatically 100 percent true), I think the world humble has shown me a lot because of the work I have done. First, being humble means knowing (and accepting) that it is not about you. Period. This is a lesson that I think unfortunately some people still have not mastered. I am 33 years of age, and it took me into my late twenties to finally understand it. When I was in high school, there may have been times when I wanted an extension on a paper-and granted, some teachers gave it because they felt a student deserved a second chance, etc. I feel that I often excelled in classes where the instructor was a disciplinarian-tough, but fair. While some other students may have been cursing under their breath, I actually relished the chance to sit up front and learn their styles, and the way they taught their classes. I'm the first person who will come forward to congratulate someone on their award if they are presented, and offer my compliments when someone has something wonderful happen to them-receiving a scholarship, being engaged, and so on. If you can't give of yourself to at least say "Congratulations," that's not an attractive quality. It's not fun being a killjoy and making others feel bad. I was that person for a long time. I don't want to ever become him again.

Being humble also means accepting that sometimes you will make mistakes and learn from them. One of the lessons I have stated in my seminars was something my late grandfather taught me: "The only perfect people are dead people. Because they do not have any problems." There's nothing wrong with setting high standards and wanting to achieve them. But if we make an error on the way to that platform, that too is OK. It can be saying something hurtful, breaking a promise to someone. If the executive director of the NSA asks me to do something, my word is my bond. If for some reason I am unable to do it, I will acknowledge my mistake and how to make it right.

Even more than the things I have described, being humble to me also means learning to accept others as they are and knowing you can try to help-even if the other person doesn't want it or can't see the reasons why. I have a good friend named "Johnny" who I grew up with in high school. "Johnny" is my age, 33, but he also has severe learning disabilities that make itvery hard, if not impossible, for him to hold down a job-in fact, his parents made him file for Social Security feeling that his disability will prevent him from any meaningful work. I've often asked myself why he is who he is, and why I am the way I am. We both have our challenges and work the best we can to overcome them. Maybe the rest of the world won't accept him the way he is. But just by listening, offering a supporting hand, that's being humble. Offering to take him out for an occasional dinner at the local diner can be a special gesture that can mean the world to him.

Yes, maybe that's a great word to describe my experiences: Humble. I was humble when I accepted my awards for Volunteer of the Year and Member of the Year and making sure that everyone is owed a part of it. My fellow NSAers make me humble. And I've never been more proud to say that, and always remember the current future lessons they will share with me.

My name is Steven Kaufman, and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Just Whose Reality Is It Anyway?

Hello everyone,

Everywhere you look these days, it's evident that reality television has invaded our worlds and shows no signs of stopping. It started with "The Real World" on MTV, spread to a certain real estate mogul who may run for the highest office in the United States ending each show with "You're fired," and there have even been movies that discuss different aspects of the reality craze: from Ron Howard's "EDtv" to the independent "Series 7: The Contenders." But just a few days ago, the organization that I am heavily involved with, the National Stuttering Association, was directly asked to participate.

I received a phone call from a representative at Ryan Seacrest Productions, based on the West Coast, to discuss my interest in participating in a reality show based around stuttering. My name had been passed on by a colleague who I work with at the NSA, and as I was listening to what was described, I felt my heart racing. Wow, I thought, this is really a chance to do something good and help people who stutter. Now you might be saying, "But I already do that anyway." Yes, I do. Not only am I a chapter leader, but I am also an advocate and an ambassador for the NSA. I could be on television and spread the word about the NSA and just how phenomenal it really is. Right now, with the major victories achieved by "The King's Speech" (winning Oscars for Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture), stuttering awareness has never been as important before, as it is right now. The representative asked me if I would be happy to receive a flyer, and I said sure. As I opened up the attachment, I began to furrow my brow in curiosity when I read that the show wanted to pair me up with a "life coach," someone who could transform my life around and wanted to use an approach which resembled hypnosis. Or as the person told me, "You'll be getting $40,000 worth of therapy for free." This so-called "life coach," would be known as "The Fixer," as he stated he could help you overcome any kind of major life challenge that was preventing you from accomplishing what you wanted.

As it was expected, this naturally drew comments from all different sides of the spectrum of NSA members. Chapter leaders are both new and seasoned professionals, and we also have leaders who are in high school and college. There was a great concern that this company was really not all that interested in truly finding out about stuttering, but rather they were looking for ratings and help promote the agenda of this coach. Some even believed that this show was merely looking to cash in on the fact that now "stuttering is hot." Some members were contacted in different states, including Florida and even north of the border, in Canada. The National Stuttering Association believes that people who stutter not only deserve respect and tolerance, but that above all else, people are human beings first and foremost. Safe to say, their biggest concern was not having their members be exploited or looked at as the butt of a joke.

However, at one time the NSA was featured in a reality show. When the NSA hosted their annual conference in Atlanta back in 2007, we had three of our members play prominent roles in a series broadcast on MTV called "True Life." The episode, called "I Stutter," followed their daily lives as they faced a unique set of challenges. One member, "Melissa," was trying to find a level of comfort with her speech-she would at times identify herself by another name which was easier to say. Another person, "Todd," was an SLP graduate student at West Virginia University and was in danger of being evicted because he could not get a job. Another woman, "Lacey," was trying to become a beauty queen in a state pageant and was scared of having to do well on the oral interview. They were followed around the conference and treated fairly and with respect. They were not coached or prompted to say anything that they did not want to. In fact, "Melissa" is still good friends with the producers to this day. The NSA will be the first organization to offer assistance if there is just and proper representation. When the movie "Talladega Nights" came out, and Columbia Pictures wanted support from NASCAR, the executives at NASCAR insisted their drivers be shown in the best way possible, and not in some stereotypical manner.

After much deliberation, the NSA felt that the right thing to do was to ask its chapter leaders (and members) to refrain from participating in the show. While the NSA may not have any official codes of conduct, I take my responsibilities seriously in the community, and I cannot in good faith have accepted the way I might have been portrayed. They did acknowledge for some people, going on the show might be a good way to help self-confidence. Then again, you can join the NSA too! The NSA also went as far to ask for support from other organizations to join them in their support to boycott the show. What is truly wonderful is that although there may be other organizations that work toward different goals with regard to stuttering, we can see common ground and there is mutual respect.

What caused a great deal of strife is the view that people who stutter need to be "fixed." You can fix a car. You can even fix your cat or dog (which I recommend as an animal lover). But people who stutter don't have to be fixed, nor should they want to. I feel horrible in retrospect that I even considered this program. If I am guilty of something, maybe I was guilty of believing that someone really wanted to help me by giving me a platform where I could share how the NSA has transformed my life and more. I think it's safe to say though that I don't need to be fixed.

For the longest time, I felt like my stuttering made me a mistake. I now firmly say my stuttering made more resilient, and knowing that someone out there will see just who I am.

My name is Steven Kaufman, and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.