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.

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