Sunday, December 28, 2008

Out of the blue is not just a Debbie Gibson song....

Good evening everyone,

The last precious few days of 2008 are coming to an end, but I wanted to use today's entry to talk about the feeling when you are surprised. Now I know there are some people out there who absolutely hate surprises, and probably with good reason-whether it's a birthday party, or even if it's good news, just the word surprise is enough to strike panic into the most battle-hardened of people. Of course, on the opposite end, you have people who are absolutely joyful and thrilled to get surprised. It comes out of the blue, and that is why I stated that "Out of the Blue" is not just a song from a glorious decade.

This past weekend, I received two emails from my teammates at the NSA. Those who read my blog know that when I speak of the NSA, I never say I have "friends" there, but rather "teammates." One of them is like myself, she's a "young veteran" who has already attended several conferences. The other is a graduate student in speech pathology down in Florida who I know from two conferences. Unfortunately, he did not make it to North Jersey for the 2008 go-round, and I don't know if he'll make it to Arizona. I hadn't spoken to him in almost a year, and one day, he left a message on my cell phone. I sent him an email reply, because the message was missing a phone number. But to get that message was unexpected and it brought a smile to my face.

I've mentioned the word "camaraderie" so many times on this blog that it may sound trite, but we, as members of such an amazing community, can affect one another's lives. We all run on different schedules, with deadlines and projects to do, bills to pay. Sometimes we travel on business, others for pleasure. If you ever find yourself in an area where you know an NSA member, by all means contact them! Ask them to get together for dinner, or a drink. I've had the pleasure of meeting up with teammates in Boston, New York County (Manhattan), Washington, DC, even the opposite side of New York...Erie County (Buffalo), and yes it was a long drive but so worth it. When you have the chance to interact and spend time with fellow teammates, the rewards really do go both ways. And if you're a first-timer with us for conferences, get out there and meet people! Take the bull by the horns, go up and introduce yourself. You too can build your own network-so when someone comes up to you and says "Do you know ________, you can say "Of course!"

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

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Do you believe in miracles? I do!

There are certain words in today's world that apply to many different things. One of those, in my opinion, is "miracle." How many of us have really seen, or been, part of a miracle? Well, it depends on who you ask. A die-hard sports fan would tell you a miracle might be what the U.S. Men's Olympic Ice Hockey Team did in Lake Placid, N.Y. A family struggling with a terminal illness might have witnessed a miracle if their child or member suddenly recovers and leads a productive life. Or sometimes, a miracle can just be what it is...a miracle. Today I was watching "A Walk To Remember" on DVD, which happens to be one of the many movies that I count as my favorite. If you want to laugh at me because it's a so-called "chick flick," go right ahead. But it's not. The movie is based on the best-seller by Nicholas Sparks, about a young man facing a brush with the law after a dangerous stunt backfires. He eventually crosses paths with a minister's daughter, and the two are polar opposites, yet they somehow form a good friendship, and that develops into love...which is severely tested when he finds out she has leukemia. Unfortunately, she loses her battle at the end of the movie, but not before Landon marries Jaime. A few years later, Landon meets up with her father, and he is now headed for medical school. Landon though apologizes for not being able to show Jaime a miracle. Her father replies, "She did see a miracle. It was you."

If you had to ask me what a miracle was, I can give you proof of one: The National Stuttering Association. Before I found the NSA, I was so alone and feeling like a prisoner in my own private hell. I know now that getting on that Jetblue flight to Long Beach was the best decision I ever made. Three years have passed since that day. Am I the same person? Absolutely not. Sure, I wish some things in my life were different....we all do. I'd like to be working full-time. But I know miracles exist. I have teammates who encourage me, as I encourage them. I found my voice. I found my passion. I found that there is no limit to how far I can go. And most importantly, I found some of the most compassionate, amazing people on this earth.

The tag line for the movie says "It all comes down to who's by your side." I know who's by my side...and it's the NSA. If you stutter, please let the NSA stand by your side as well. Check them out at, and call 1-800-WE-STUTTER. I know there is a person out there who can be part of their own miracle, and with the NSA's help, we'll make it happen.

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, December 16, 2008

Good times and good cheer....

Hello everyone,

According to the web site, the word "camaraderie" is defined as good fellowship or comradeship. I've mentioned that word frequently when it comes to the National Stuttering Association. I firmly believe that word, in all its succinctness, defines the NSA. There is passion. There is an incredible desire to make our voices heard. But more than anything else, we have an amazing level of camaraderie that is unmatched anywhere.

On Saturday, December 13, I had the pleasure of attending a holiday party that was hosted by the Manhattan (New York County) chapter. It is always an honor for me to attend any activities where the NSA is center stage. I contacted the chapter leader of the group, and asked if he would open it up to other NSA chapters in the area, and he gladly said yes. I contacted several other chapters, such as Queens County (Queens), Kings County (Brooklyn), Central Jersey, South Jersey, and my chapter members. I was counting down the days until this event could take place, and it was so worth the wait.

There were about twelve people who joined us for dinner. The 5:53 train from Hicksville en route to Penn Station could not have gotten there fast enough. It's so much fun living in the suburbs, but I digress LOL. We started the evening off by enjoying a hearty meal at Dallas BBQ in Times Square, 221 West 42nd Street between Seventh & Eighth Avenue. It was great to see everyone, and I was able to catch up with the Queens chapter leader, who was the very well-deserved recipient (along with his colleagues) of the Chapter of the Year Award for Lousiana-LaFayette. We had good conversation, just laughing, talking, being. For the first time in a long while, we could all forget about the world's troubles..the struggles of the economy, the politics going on. Afterward, we all hopped on the subway and hit up Sing Sing Karaoke, in the St. Marks neighborhood. What a fantastic time it was! We had everything from Billy Joel to Nancy Sinatra to Baby One More Time....the person who sang that will remain nameless of course. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I just might be falling in love with everything the NSA stands for. There are different kinds of love of course-you can love your parents, you can love your pet, you can love the city you live in-and you can love an ideal or a philosophy. I love everyone at the NSA, and I love the values we share with each other. David Archuleta, the runner-up for "American Idol" may have been right: "This crush isn't going away." My name is Steven Kaufman, and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted, and make you voice heard.

Friday, December 12, 2008

I lost my public speaking virgnity and I'm not sorry!

They say you never forget your first time. No, get your mind out of the gutter, I don't mean that kind of first time....I mean, in terms of public speaking. Being a person who stutters, it's no secret that at one time for me, having to perform thing action resulted in anxiety levels that were off the charts. Just imagine having to give that oral presentation in your high school Spanish class, or reaching out to an audience to give an address. The thought of your mouth opening and the chord locking severely, failing to get the words out, is enough to make you want to be anywhere in the dentist's chair having root canal. Last year, that all changed for me. It all started when I was asked by the executive director of the NSA if I would be interested in speaking to a graduate-level class of speech pathology students. I jumped at the chance to do so. One part of me knew this would be a major step. Another had a whole other viewpoint, and it wasn't flattering. Fear has many variables to it. Some will tell you it can be an excellent motivator for some. Others will say it can unleash paralyzing power over you, so much to the point where you don't want to live. Or say what you want. Well, I spoke at that appearance. Did I block a couple of times? Sure. There were times my tongue was stuck on a consonant and all I could think of was that dreaded "wheel spinning in the snow" image. But snow be damned, I spoke what was on my mind...and I could have floated home on the adrenaline high I experienced. Fast forward to one year later, and I returned the scene where I took a major step forward. I was contacted once again by this same professor and on Tuesday, I made a trip up to Mercy College. Mercy College is a private school located in the bedroom community of Dobbs Ferry in Westchester County, about half an hour from the Bronx County-Westchester County line, which officially divides the city limits from the suburbs. I still consider Westchester the unofficial sixth borough of New York, but that's semantics. I made it up there at 3:15, and waited about two hours to speak, this time to a much bigger class and a bigger room. But I can say this with pride, for the first time in my life, my stuttering took a backseat. I was an engaging, interactive speaker, even one who jazzed it up with a little game and humming a few karaoke lines. The day after I went to my weekly speech therapy appointment, and my speech therapist was beaming with great pride. He told me that I will never ever go back to the way I used to speak. Yes, I'll have good days. And I'll have bad days. But I embrace public speaking, and so should you. You don't have to give an oral address if you don't want to. But every step you take, is one step closer to fully accepting that public speaking is fun. It does not have to be scary. Talk to a passerby on the street. Go into a local cafe and start chatting about organic products. Anything you want. When I gave my "A is for Attitude" seminar, I made a reference to the NBC series "Fear Factor." Every time in the opening sequence, the host, Joe Rogan, would gather six contestants in a remote location stating that "All of you have been gathered here to do one thing: look fear straight in the eye." As a person who stutters, I faced my "Fear Factor" and won....four years ago, I could never have seen myself presenting to my fellow colleagues and peers. Now, I want to do more public speaking. You never have to be frightened of public speaking. The NSA's teammates will be there to stand up with you. My name is Steven Kaufman, and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted, and make your voice heard.

Monday, December 8, 2008

From the other side of the world....

Hello everyone,

A few days ago I had the pleasure of receiving an email from the executive director of the National Stuttering Association. For those of you out there who are people who stutter or speech therapists (and future ones too), I strongly insist you take the time to get to know her and the values she stands for. It can be almost impossible to measure someone's heart, but when the annual NSA conference grows to bring more people every year, so does her heart.

However, the email is different. The email was not written by her, but rather a person who stutters on the other side of the world. The NSA conference is rapidly becoming an international melting pot, and one of the pleasures I take from attending is not only to interact with attendees from different countries, but learn about their lifestyles and the customs. This past year, we had Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and our absolutely breathtakingly inspiring keynote speaker from Sweden. A person e-mailed Tammy asking for their message to be forwarded to me, and it was. It was very amazing to read, and if you need proof that the NSA reaches all countries and touches us all, here it is.

This email was sent from Switzerland and was in response to my "A is for Attitude" article that was published in the "Letting Go" newsletter. My article is about struggling to find legal employment and having to be told by an attorney that my speech was the main reason why. The person who wrote to me is an attorney, who has been out of work since Jan. 1. What I found very interesting was his comment "I have faced hatred from very few people. You won't change these few by changing yourself, believe me. There are simply people that just won't hire us, period."

One of my favorite movies, "Batman Begins," has a quote from a scene where Bruce Wayne (before he develops the Batman persona) is confronting Carmine Falcone, a crime boss in the city. And Falcone says, "You always fear what you don't understand." And it's true, to an extent. We are reluctant to approach certain people, or maybe we avoid eating certain food because we are scared we won't like it." There are many people who don't understand stuttering, or just don't want to it, rather, they accept the media's portrayal of it. The Porky Pig example, Miley Cyrus making a reference to it in "See You Again," Michael Palin's character in "A Fish Called Wanda." But sometimes you can reach one person. One of the NSA support groups recently went out to dinner together and when the waitress tried to finish their sentences, the members spoke up and said something. I applaud that. All it takes is one example. Sure, maybe everyone won't notice. But to those who do see it, you stand out stronger.

Sometimes it's scary to not know what the future holds. After all, only one person claimed to know, and that's Nostradamus. I don't even know if he was even true, but as a person who stutters, I know what my future holds-unlimited promise. Hope springs eternal, after all. You don't have to wait for the week to end to decide to make a new goal, or commit to changing yourself. But whatever you decide to do, surround yourself with positive people and influences. I have never forgiven my parents for not being more accepting of my decision to go to Long Beach, Calif., but the results have spoken for themselves and it's still paying dividends. If it wasn't for some encouragement from NSA members and all my teammates (I don't like to say I have friends at the NSA, but rather teammates) I don't know where I'd be. No matter how small you think your world is, someone out there understands. My name is Steven Kaufman, and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted, and make your voice heard.