Friday, January 30, 2009

Keep your reputation close...and safeguard it closer.

Good evening everyone,

As I write this blog, tonight there is a firestorm brewing in the Long Island/New York City area. Joe Torre, the former manager of my beloved New York Yankees, is under attack from all sides for writing a so-called "autobiography" (or tell-all, if you prefer) basically calling out his former team and making numerous hateful comments about so many players he coached. In essence, he bit the hand that fed him, and fed him so well. Now, his reputation will never be the same.

As a person who stutters, and also a chapter leader, I have now discovered that your reputation can, and will, follow you everywhere. These days, it seems like so many morals are going out the window. We see it all the time, with Ponzi schemes and a "win at all costs" mentality. We may feel we're immune, but as the saying goes, "pride comes before the fall," and then we lose sight of the things most precious to us: our reputations.

Holding a leadership position to me is not only a duty, but an honor and a calling. I never take it for granted. Growing up, high school was absolute hell. I don't know a single person who stuttered who would want to relive those days. Now, there's more pressure on teens in high school than ever before. My stutter was so severe that at times I wanted to (and did) act out just to get attention and be talked about. And I was....but the lesson I failed to learn was that people weren't laughing with me, but instead at me. In this day and age, no one wants negative attention. People will remember you for the matter how long it may take you to change. It doesn't go away.

When I was asked to be a chapter leader, I was scared. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't. But I also know that it means you're chosen because you have a commitment. A desire. A genuine feeling that you want to show others and lead by example. I plan to keep that reputation. I may not be very good at actions, but with words, I am eloquent and outspoken. I will always say what's on my mind. There are so many people who stutter out there who still are afraid to come forward. Their lips are haunted by the laughter of those tease...the fear of society shunning them. I promise to reach out to them, even if it is through email or IM, and let them know they aren't a stammerer or stutterer. They are a PERSON who stutters.

But even if I wasn't a chapter leader, being part of the NSA has shown me in so many ways about what it means to be part of the human race, whereas for a long time I wasn't. Joining the NSA is about RESPECT. I know when you type in caps it is the equivalent of shouting, and I don't mean to...please accept my apologies. I love my teammates, but most importantly, I RESPECT them. I RESPECT their differences and philosophies. I RESPECT their work ethic and commitment. If you stutter, the best thing you can do is be positive and continue to work hard to be fluent. And if you stutter, and hear the laughs, RESPECT yourself. You are worth it. And you will realize that you too will gain a reputation: as someone who believes stuttering does not have to identify who you are at all.

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

Monday, January 26, 2009

The eyes of Montreal....

Good evening everyone. This past Sunday, the National Hockey League hosted the annual All-Star Game in Montreal. You may have heard people say if hockey is a religion, Montreal is the cathedral. There's no denying the history they've had. But above all else, there's one quote that summarizes their team, which is a line from the poem "In Flanders Field." It states "From failing hands we throw the torch, be yours to hold it high."

When I was asked to speak at the opening ceremonies for the 2008 NSA Conference in North Jersey, that was a tremendous honor. As I have stated time and again, I do not have friends at these gatherings. I have teammates who refuse to put themselves above the NSA. In this day and age, we often hear talk about "Who our real friends are?". Well, I want to ask you a question: Who are your teammates? Do they commit to you their loyalty and support? Will they sacrifice personal feelings for the betterment of the organization? If you wouldn't mind, do an exercise for me. Count on both hands the number of people you know, and know really well. Now, ask yourself how well you really know them. Do you know their values? Or do you know facts about them? There is a big difference, and that lesson took me a long time to learn. The age we live in, people are willing to overlook so many things just for a quick fix. There is no quick fix, not in this time. We need to be in this for the long haul. I made a mistake quitting speech therapy once, and I know if I miss one session, my speech goes downhill. I am committed to speaking. I am committed to being heard.

When I think of myself as a chapter leader, I don't just see myself as the "head" of a group. I see it as my duty. Bryan Trottier, the New York Islanders superstar center who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997, writes a monthly column for Islanders Illustrated, wherein this month he talked about the mentality that players who score goals need to have. What is my goal? My goal is to make the NSA stronger however I can. And when he spoke, he cited that he interviewed many great scorers from different eras, and they had one theme in common: They all had that mentality, that "They must help the team win." We all must help the NSA in whatever form we can.

When that torch is thrown to you....take all your energy and lift it as high you can. You can make a difference....and hold yourself up very high!!!

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

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The real definition of Happy Hour...

Good morning everyone! I wanted to use today's version of the blog to explore Happy Hour. Mention the word to most of America and the images that are evoked are a crowded bar/taven in anywhere, USA on a Friday evening. Work's over, the week is finished, you got paid, and you're spending some quality time with Jack...or Bacardi and Cola. (I'm more of a vodka cranberry myself, gotta love Stoli!) But what happened this past Friday wasn't the typical happy hour in the sense of the word. Because to me, "Happy Hour" on the past Friday means spending it with my NSA teammates. I was contacted by a teammate who is the co-chapter leader for the Rockville region of the NSA. For those who are unfamiliar with Rockville, it's a very affluent bedroom community that serves as a suburb of the District of Columbia on the Maryland side, approximately eight miles northwest of DC via I-270. Many federal employees live in the area...very good place and a great quality of life. This teammate was coming up to visit NYC and was one of the first people who stutter I met at the NSA conference. Naturally, I made sure to get together with him for dinner, and invite some NSA teammates from the New York area too. So on Friday night, it was him and three others enjoying dinner, drinks, and good conversation at Tony Di Napoli's. When you visit the city, I implore you to please visit and sample a true Italian feast..1606 Second Avenue,, and have the ziti bolognese while you're there. It was two hours of chatting about life, politics, the NSA, and any other topic in general. And a good opportunity to put the troubles of the world behind, albeit for a while. You see, as a chapter leader for the Long Island region, I am very firm in my commitment to camaraderie. Again, I know I am repeating myself and often do, but I do so only to emphasize points I strongly believe in. The NSA is unlike any other organization I've known. You simply cannot get the type of bonds of support here, that you would get from any other organization. Truly to be part of a community like this is a gift, and a blessing that I never take for granted. Although we come from different areas, many times our paths may cross once in a blue moon. It's fantastic when we have NSA teammates meet up with each other in different areas. You never know when one is traveling on business and wishes to get together with another teammate in the area they will be in. We all run on different schedules. We're all at different points in our lives: Some of us are single by choice, others are married and have to take care of their children, but when you have that chance to get together with a teammate and the schedules are aligned, do it. It's time well spent. It's great to have these sites like MySpace and Facebook, but we need to realize that also it is not a substitute for personal, face-to-face contact. Especially for people who stutter, it's imperative to do that. Whenever one of my NSA teammates is in New York City, rest assured I'll be the first one on the Long Island Railroad en route to the crossroads of the universe (Pennsylvania Station, 34th & 7th: be there Friday at 5 p.m. and you'll see what I mean) to join them for time truly well spent. 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.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What it means to be safe..and why safe is death

Good evening everyone. I thought I would focus on this blog on a lesson that like so many others took me a long time to learn. I would like to focus first on what it means to be "safe." And by that, I don't mean feeling safe in your house, or in any neighborhood you may be walking around in. I want to explore the meaning of "safe" and why "safe is death." For those of you who have been reading the blog since its inception or may be joining me recently, you know I am a hockey fan, and a passionate one at that. For many people, their morning routine starts out with the usual: brushing their teeth, reading the paper, running to make the train into the city (usually that's the 7:14 from Hicksville en route to New York's Penn Station LOL), and breakfast if there's time for it. Mine starts off similar, but I try to also have time for the 7 a.m. edition of ESPN SportsCenter. One time in 2004, the anchor of the show was talking about the Tampa Bay Lightning, and their clinching of a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. John Tortorella, the coach at the time, was asked about the team's offensive strategy, and he summed it perfectly. "Safe is death," is how he responded. When he was asked a follow-up question, he spoke about how you need to be on offense all the time and make plays happen...yes, sometimes you will get burned in the process. But don't sit back waiting for something to develop. That mantra was a big factor in the team running all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Although it took seven games, at the end of an exhausting series...the Lightning had won it's first championship. To make it even sweeter, the captain, Dave Andreychuk, waited 20+ years for the one moment everyone dreams of. When it comes to stuttering and speaking your mind, the exact philosophy holds true. "Safe is death"-but it's the death of your voice. In some ways, my life feels like a rebirth. I'll be 31 in April, and for the most part, the twenties for me were anything but roaring. Come to think of it, the MGM Lion roared more times. On the weekends, I'd rarely do anything. I would go to the movies every Saturday night, feeling "safe" and protected. I'd order my tickets online, and avoid the box office speaking experience. If I went to the supermarket on an errand, and the checkout girl/guy said "hello," I would smile, but not even be able to say hello back to them. When it came time to buy anything, I'd try and go online. This is what being "safe" is. "Safe" is fear. "Safe" is doubt. "Safe" is guilt. "Safe" is whatever emotion you think it will be. I felt for a long time that stuttering would have me in its iron-clad grip, choking every last spasm out of me as my chords would lock, never again to be broken. I would feel I have no right to enjoy myself, and I'd always feel all alone. All I could think of was the line from "Iris" by the Goo Goo Dolls: "I don't want the world to see me, because I don't think they'd understand." That was me, succinctly. I would remember when I was younger being in the AOL chat rooms and meeting people...and I had a few women who I developed a good relationship with. But when asked if I wanted to move offline....I just deliberately vanished. I knew what would happen if they found out I stuttered. I just could not risk that, and there I went again, being "safe." We've all felt that way at some point or another. It's very ironic that now, the person who stuttered was so deathly quiet now can't keep quiet LOL. But in a good way, of course. I want to share everything with the world. And the world is going to listen. You don't have to be "safe," and you shouldn't want to be either. Give yourself a chance. I know, it's easier said than done. But try it...say "hello" to someone. Ask for a certain type of sandwich at the store. Because each time you do, your voice is going to live. And it's going to be stronger and more dominant than ever. It feels so good to speak out loud, doesn't it!!!! 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, January 20, 2009

H-O-P-E...and it what it means to me.

Good evening everyone! Today at 12 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, the entire world became eyewitnesses to history. Barack Obama officially became the President of the United States of America, and is now the first African-American individual to hold the highest office in the world. For the first time sicne perhaps John F. Kennedy was in the White House, there's a buzz everywhere. A glow that can light the most darkest corners of the universe. Some may have felt that Obama's skin color was his disability. On this day, the only colors that mattered were red, white, and blue. The words you hear though tossed about with great frequency is "Hope." The promise of a fresh start. A chance to revitalize ourselves and this country.

I feel it's only poetic on this day to talk about hope, and what it gives a person who stutters. Like other people who stutter, I have had difficulties when it comes to speaking-and not just in classroom situations. The restaurant. The movie theater. Asking a woman out on a date. Even finding a good speech therapist. I went through a period where I went through five speech therapists in seven years time, until I gave up...which was the worst decision I ever could have done. If you are thinking about doing that, please reconsider immediately, as the consequences could be dire. When I quit speech therapy for good, my speech went so downhill it might have been considered off the map. My face would twist in agony as I tried to get the words out, to no avail. It took me seven years to return to speech therapy, after I felt like I was dangerously close to waving the white flag of surrender.

I use this section now to talk about hope. For a person who stutters, regardless of whether it's mild to moderate, do not allow anyone to take away hope from you. My late grandfather once told me the best advice was this: "Never, ever, take away hope from someone. It might be all they have." The National Stuttering Association gave me back hope, and now as a chapter leader, it is imperative, and my duty, to make sure everyone who stutters knows hope is burning, and the fire is alight. I have seen first-hand this is true. I've saw parents who bring a child or teen to our annual conferences, and they enter intimidated and frightened. Four days later, they're experiencing sheer joy and the smiles on their faces say it all. The parents are so overwhelmed that they too, break down and cry tears of joy. The NSA has received so many accolades and heartfelt notes of appreciation...saying "You gave my son (or daughter) hope." For the first time, every single barrier they've faced is gone...forever. Stuttering may have tried its hardest to break their heart long before "My Bloody Valentine 3D" ever did....but the NSA can, and does, put an end to those days. We personally see to it that we do.

I will close on this quote, which I think is very relevant. There's a scene in the movie "National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets" in which Ed Harris says, "A man has only one lifetime. But history can remember you forever." What kind of person who stutters do you want to be? Do you want to be someone who gave in and accepted that a speech impediment would deter all the goals you wanted to accomplish, or do you want to be a person who stutters who took the bull by the horns and DID? The choice is yours.

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

Monday, January 19, 2009

What makes a team player?

Good evening everyone. I thought I'd dedicate the blog to asking that question. It's pretty interesting, because of all the answers you may get. If you think about it, how many times do you hear the term "team player?"-you might see it in an advertisement for a job, as in "team players wanted." Or when you're watching a televised sports event, the commentators talk about this guy just "isn't a team player."

This past Saturday, I had the chance to get together with my NSA teammates. I was in South Jersey (Burlington County, Philadelphia suburbs) and I was helping out one of my teammates who is undertaking a very deep, and personal project. She wants to write a book about her experiences as a person who stutters. I am always available and willing to help devote my energies for the betterment of a team goal that helps everyone. That's what being a team player is all about. Anyone can stand up and say, "Well sure! It means showing it's not about 'me,' but rather "we." But do you really understand the essence of that statement?

I want to tell you the story of one Scott Niedermayer. I've always been a big hockey fan, and I consider myself a student of the game. Sure, I like watching the bang-bang plays, but watching strategy and the chemistry take place. While some people may spend their Saturday nights at the lounge spending some quality time with a chocolate martini, I hung out at NHL arenas. I follow the New Jersey Devils, and I'm partial to the Washington Capitals. The Devils drafted Scott Niedermayer with the third overall selection in the 1991 NHL Draft, recognizing the need to build the blueline. Niedermayer was considered a devastatingly promising prospect-smooth skater, strong offensively, almost to the point where he could have played on offense in addition to defense. When the Devils hired Jacques Lemaire to coach the team, he made sure that every player would commit to putting their personal goals aside for the purpose of team. That meant no offensive fireworks for freedom to roam the ice, no chances to put up 80+ points as an offensive-minded defenseman.

Now Niedermayer did complain, and some of that criticism did make the sports pages. But he decided to sacrifice for the New Jersey Devils. And what ever came of that decision? How about three Stanley Cup Championships. Some athletes spend their whole careers waiting to play for the title. Others for whatever circumstance, never get the chance to do so. Now ask yourself: if you were in that position that Scott was, would you rather have ten seasons of 80+ points...or three rings? I'll take the rings, and probably so would everyone else.

My NSA teammates know that it takes a commitment to sacrifice our personal goals for the betterment of the NSA. We come from diverse backgrounds, big cities, small towns. Some of us have different ideologies about politics, religion, and philosophy. I know that if I have an issue about my stuttering, I've got 652 teammates on my side. I know that they know I will rally behind them. I stand with them. Together, we're all captains....and we're all team players. A team player means having the power to declare your freedom from stuttering. It means unselfishness. Because of the NSA, I am a team player...and I'm on the BEST team around.

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

Friday, January 16, 2009

So you had a bad day....

Good evening to everyone. No, I'm not trying to channel Daniel Powter after another contestant got removed from "American Idol." But while we're on the subject of bad days, have you ever had one? I'm sure you did. You woke up and all the color in your world faded after it was mishap after mishap. Your car did not hit major traffic. The boss is angry and demanding it all, and he wanted it yesterday. And the hits just keep on coming....but I don't mean that kind of bad day. I mean a bad day with your speech. You open your mouth but you just can't seem to connect with fluency. All the words are trapped in intensely sharpening vocal spasms. This continues all day until you get home and explode, and berate yourself for hours on end.

I've had those bad days, too many to count. Stuttering is kind of interesting like that. On one hand, you may be able to achieve 80 percent fluency on a given day. And then I've had days where I just can't get a damn word out, even a simple one. Stuttering is all about ebbs and flows. However, you might be shocked to read this, but it's true: It's OK to have a bad day. I know some people who are perfectionists (don't we all). If anything is even slightly off, then their day is ruined and it's everyone else who has to suffer the consequences. I understand it can be frustrating to have a day when you struggle mightily with speaking your mind. But to berate yourself over it time and again is futile.
I often watch "Inside The Actors Studio" on Bravo. If you pay attention really closely to the interview, whomever is in the chair with James Lipton, gives profound insight and philosophies on how they became the person they were. A few years ago Tom Hanks happened to be in that chair...truly a great actor, but yet so subtle in his mannerisms. You never see him targeted intensely by the paparazzi unlike other performers. One time a young woman studying to be an actor asked him a question about "Turner & Hooch," a 1989 movie which was really panned by the media and at the box office. And Hanks responded by saying "You learn more from the things that do not work out than the things that do," and he commented on how he worked harder on that movie. If you have a bad speech day, it's all right to analyze it and wonder why. But it's NOT all right to beat yourself up over it.
My speech therapist once told me something that really makes a lot of sense. It didn't mesh with me the first time, but the more I focused on it, the more I saw how true it is. You see, you don't feel bad because you feel bad for the person who has to listen to you. Well don't......because what you have to say is important. It doesn't matter whether you're asking what aisle a food product is in a supermarket. I remember one time I was in Pennsylvania Station at 34th Street & 7th Avenue in New York County, and I was on the New Jersey Transit side of the station. I wanted to buy a round trip ticket to Newark to go to a blood drive hosted by the New Jersey Devils (favorite hockey team!) and the "N" sounded like a wheel stuck in the snow. And the ticket clerk was trying to guess where I wanted to go, and she was like "Neptune? Netcong?" It took me a while to say "Newark," but I didn't feel bad for her at all. I will say on what's on my mind. The next time you have a bad day with your speech...just remember it's OK to have one. You're OK, and other people will be OK 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.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

What Do You Believe In?

This past weekend, the NFL playoffs kicked off, launching the most popular sport on this continent's second season. As they do, they brand a slogan to highlight the desire and the dreams of getting to the Super Bowl to play for a championship. A few years ago, the mantra was "Show me something." This year, it's "Believe in now." This naturally got me thinking about what we, as people who stutter, can believe in.

You see, January has always been the month where we start our resolutions...that is, if you believe in them. Some people do, others have given up a long time ago. Some want to stop smoking. Others want to lose weight, or maybe this is the year to fall in love. I've always been curious what makes us believe in something? It may be values. Or a mission that needs to be carried out. You can believe in many different kinds of things. Angels. Faith. The New York Yankees. (Sorry, I couldn't resist). But I also believe in above all else, that people can be amazing. They can reach out and change someone's life. They can stand up and refuse to let something dictate the way their life is run. I believe in the National Stuttering Association. I believe in my teammates. I believe that when you raise your voice, everyone listens. And everyone who does listen is all the better for it.

This year has been marked by hope so far. I am not going to turn this into a political debate, this just isn't the right place for it at all. But reading the message boards and seeing people do things to raise awareness about just how important the NSA is, that's what I believe in. I believe in the media being able to share our stories and tell the rest of the world about us. I believe in so many things about the NSA.

I also believe that sometimes you read a quote and it catches your attention, and no matter how many times you look at it, it still catches you off time and makes you analyze the words. Recently I was checking out a blog written by a well-known DJ in the Southeast. She is a big part of a morning show based out of Atlanta. I read her story and it truly inspired me. She is a recipient of a kidney transplant and has really lived her life to the fullest. But on her blog, there was one sentence that summed it up perfectly.

"I still believe that anyone in this country can be whoever they want to be. It may take more effort for some, but nothing is impossible. That is America. And try as they might, those who try to keep us on an "us and them" measuring scale, you will fail. America will make sure of that."

I've met teammates at the NSA who never let their stuttering stand in the way of doing anything. They're living proof of these words. May you become a teammate of the NSA as well.

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, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year 2009!!!

Good afternoon everyone,

I want to wish a Happy New year 2009 to those who are reading my blog. New Year's Eve has so many different meanings, depending on who you ask. For some, this is THE party night of the get ready to slip into your tuxedo or ballroom gown, dance, drink, drink some more, and then you can't remember what you did, but you're so happy you did it anyway. For others, it's a time to reflect, move forward, and realize that you have the power to change. My New Year's Eve was spent differently, for sure. I drove down to Jones Beach, and just listened to the waves crashing, even if it was eighteen degrees. Yes, I have a thing for cold weather, but it wasn't the drive I enjoyed. It was the process of being, and reflecting on what 2008 was all about.

The one theme that I focused on was about stepping out of my shell and becoming the type of person I can, and want to be. This year hasn't been easy for me, or then again, for a majority of people-job losses are mounting, the economy is struggling, but in some ways, I feel like 2008 was possibly the greatest year of my life so far. This past year, the National Stuttering Association's annual conference was held in Parsippany, N.J., and part of the conference is the awards luncheon, where the NSA recognizes people who have truly made a significant difference to help others who stutter. I received the shock of my life when I received the Volunteer of the Year Award, and was recognized by my peers for my work ethic and commitment to the organization.

Like it or not, sometimes this world can seem cruel and we all seem distant. But we have to believe-we need to believe that there are people who do care, who want to work to make things better. I think back to the very last scene of the 1987 film "Dirty Dancing," one of the many movies that I enjoy, and I recall the last scene where Patrick Swayze is on stage with Jennifer Grey, and he speaks of "how there are people willing to stand up for others," and additionally of how he met someone "who taught me about the kind of person I want to be." Well, I've met a great deal of those people at the NSA, and I will always continue to meet more of them. We all have a choice. It may have taken me a long time to realize that, but we can either sit back and play the sympathy card about our speech, or we can work hard and declare our independence from stuttering. I don't want sympathy anymore. I want to make my voice heard. I AM going to make my thoughts about speech known. And I promise you I will help others make their voices heard too.

We don't know what this year holds for us. Sometimes those thoughts can be scary. They can also be exciting, too. You have the power. You don't need to be Optimus Prime or Starscream to be a transformer. Start out small, if you want to. But once you begin to realize that you are a person who stutters, and not a stammerer, or any other label someone may give you, you will reach that ultimate goal of self-acceptance. And it's my wish for you that you do find it, and may it last forever.

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