This past Saturday night, I had the chance to take advantage of another opportunity to get together with NSA members. Mike Cohn, who is the leader of the Manhattan (new York County) chapter, hosted a karaoke night with members of his chapter. I had initiated contact with him and asked if it would be a good idea to open up the event to other chapters in the area (Queens County and Kings County-Brooklyn), and give their members a chance to participate. After consulting with his members, he agreed and representing the Long Island chapter, I went. I didn't know who I would meet, or even if I'd be the first one there. But I knew I was in the right place when I was welcomed by Jeff Shames, a documentary filmmaker dedicated to supporting the cause of stuttering awareness with his documentary, "Spit It Out." I also met Mike, who is a good chapter leader, and other members who showed up-among them, Larry, Jay (from Queens County), and Deb.
We all had a great time, at a fantastic place: Sing Sing Karaoke, right off the #6 Astor Place subway stop. The audience was into it, shouting out the words to every song. We had Jeff and Jay jamming on a Backstreet Boys song, and Jeff did a good rendition of a tune from Three Dog Night. Deb was in sync with Blondie's "Call Me," and yours truly sang "New York, New York" and "Santa Monica" as only I can, working the room. Those who saw me sing Britney at NSA 2008 know what I mean LOL.
If you're wondering why I am bringing this up, I am doing so because karaoke can actually be a great way to eliminate your fear of speaking words. WHAT? OK, stay with me here. Like many people who stutter, I for a long time would have done anything (and did it) to avoid speaking. I'd feign having a cold and being unable to speak. I'd buy my movie tickets online instead of at the box office. I even ate lunch at the nurse's office because it was a safe place. I think to an extent, we've all done something similar to that. Just the thought of having to give an oral presentation would make having root canal three times over seem like a day in paradise. In fact, the telephone can often become an instrument of fear. Someone once coined the term "Ma Bell" syndrome, to describe a person who stutters and their fear of the telephone. I often felt like the phone was my "trap," a la the Saw movies. I could even visualize the scene in my head as Jigsaw speaks: "Greetings, and thank you for coming today. You must make a phone call in order to free yourself from the vocal chains that lock you."
In my sophomore year of high school, I was invited to a cousin's bar mitzvah. The DJ was so reprehensible that I sort of conned him into letting me turn it into a karaoke contest. I sang Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," and got a standing ovation. That led to me in turn getting banned from all family functions. I digress LOL....but most importantly, it was the first time in my life I did not stutter...at all. I never really understood why it was possible to not stutter when you sing. But I also knew I didn't want to go through life singing my words either. There had to be a balance.
In a lot of ways, karaoke has given me the confidence to speak my mind and not be afraid of what anyone else is going to think. Even if you do not stutter, I really think karaoke can do wonders. Yes, some people refuse to do it unless alcohol is involved. I admit, I do enjoy a nice drink from time to time, and some people wonder if I am drunk when I am singing. The answer is no. But if you ask me if I feel alive when I sing, the answer is YES!
And when you bring karaoke in front of people who stutter, the results can be phenomenal. It was my idea to suggest karaoke for the National Stuttering Association's 2008 conference in North Jersey. When I proposed it, I felt it had potential to become a fun activity-after all, if you do not have a car anywhere in Jersey, vaya con dios, because you're not getting from A to B. What we got was a showcase of just how unique our personalities are. We had young attendees jamming with older ones. So many memorable performances stand out. Russ Hicks, who is truly a legend in my eyes (and many others as well), joined Eva Woolwine and her mother, along with others, to hold a jam session to "Friends in Low Places." Danielle, a teen from Long Island, wowed the audience with her invocation of "Man! I Feel Like A Woman!," Amber displayed her soulful prowess with "Son Of A Preacher Man," Mitch Trichon channeled Bono on their classic "With or Without You," and yours truly decided to go all-out and recreate the "Baby One More Time" video.
So the next time you think you have had a bad speech day and you're about to berate yourself over it (which is counterproductive because we need to accept that our speech ebbs and flows), put yourself behind the microphone and see what happens. You may just discover that there's no reason to fear speaking anymore!
My name is Steven Kaufman, and I am a person who stutters.
Until we speak again, stand up and be counted...and make your voice heard!