Wednesday, April 29, 2009

You'd think after all this time I'd despise you...but I want to thank you. Because you made me strong!

Good evening everyone,

I thought I'd start off tonight with the opening line from one of my favorite songs: "Fighter" by Christina Aguilera. I've always been a fighter, and because I stutter, I know (but more importantly) I embrace the fact that I may have to work harder than everyone else to bring the results I want to life. This edition of the blog starts though with a blast from the past, and ends with the lyric.

I currently work for a restaurant/cafe right now, and this past Saturday I was waiting on customers behind the counter when I saw a woman I used to work with at a law firm. I said hello, and we spoke briefly for a few moments. And as she was leaving, I was reminded painfully that sometimes some people in upper management do not change. (I want the record to reflect the woman I spoke to is NOT in that position). Which is amazing because it's those people who sometimes refuse to see through a person's challenges and prevent them from trying to showcase their ability.

This law firm was one where I had an interview about three years ago for what was considered an entry-level paralegal position. And despite making a good impression on one of the partners, the other one was not as convinced. At the end of my three interviews, I was offered a position in the billing department. When I asked what happened to the paralegal position, the office manager adamantly said "We decided we didn't need one after all." Against my better judgment, I took the job, and waited. And waited again....for my chance to show I wanted to be a paralegal. Six months came and went, and I knew it was never going to happen. I became incensed and voiced my disapproval...and that led me facing the executioner of the firing squad, being dismissed. This is one of the catalysts that led to me joining the National Stuttering Association and becoming the type of teammate I want to be.

Today's world we are living has a lot of drawbacks, too many to mention...but one of them is that there are many people out there who are phonies. They'll tell you what you want to hear and then as soon as you leave out comes the dagger, and the painful betrayal, a la Brutus to Julius Caesar. I know sometimes I may come across naive to some, but no one will tell me otherwise that one teammate can make a difference. I know so because I've seen it first-hand. The revolution that starts a change may very well be your own. I am genuine with who I am and I will never hide it. I say what I feel. I will take responsibility for what I say, and explain why I feel that way.

When I was driving home from work, I thought about that firm I used to work for, and wonder how they would feel if they saw me now. To be honest, I doubt they'd even remember me. But I never forgot them, and I never forgot them for all the wrong reasons-how they frustrated me and made me feel belittled. I suppose in retrospect, if they saw how positive I'd become and what a big difference one person can make, they might say "You know what? I don't know what I did, but I'm glad. Whatever gets you through the day." And that is why it's a perfect time to the close this entry on the blog with this quote: "You'd think after all this time, I'd despise you. But I want to thank you. Because you made me strong." Little does that firm know, I owe them a debt of gratitude. Because if wasn't for them, I may not have found myself a home and the greatest teammates in the world-at the National Stuttering Association.

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, April 23, 2009

A birthday wish.....learning to forgive and forget

Good evening everyone. I want to begin this edition of the blog with a quote from one of the more popular country songs I've heard: "Forgive sounds good...but forget, I'm not sure I could." For those who are not familiar, this is from "Not Ready To Make Nice" by the Dixie Chicks. I was actually playing this song in my head repeatedly as I turned 31 on April 21. I'm not much a fan of birthdays as I used to be. Don't get me wrong, family occasions are important to me, but because it's also a reminder of hurtful things I've done in the past, and it reminds me that I don't want to find myself saying things too late-when no one is around to hear them. Growing up in high school and college, I never had the ideal relationship with my parents. Then again, I do not know of any of my NSA teammates that might have. Some of the most painful experiences I have had were during that time in my life-when I would eat lunch in the nurse's office, for example, or choose to walk home by myself even though it was quicker to take the bus: I just felt so alienated and thinking that I had no right to be around other people who could talk better than I ever could. My escape from this self-induced prison as I'd like to call it was learning. Even if I could not volunteer in class due to the fact some teachers misunderstood stuttering, I'd learn as much as I could. I drew inspiration writing essays about books discussed in class, and how they'd parallel my life in so many ways. One of the song lines I think of is from "The Living Years" by Mike and the Mechanics (yes, I know I am old LOL-it's a big group from the eighties. The first line of the song states "Every generation blames the one before." My parents are probably going blame themselves because I stutter and I have been presented with a lot of challenges, like the ones I am going through now-but I know, and I have to believe, things will get better. Maybe I do have to work twice as hard as others, but I also know that I have found out just how strong my character is. But being a strong character has nothing to do with physical attributes. It's about learning how to forgive. It's about accepting that you can forget how you were wronged, as much as it may cut so deep, and look forward to the future. I know first hand how you can be so angry and have it destroy all you work for. I vividly remember reading Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" and being haunted by it. When the scientist creates the so-called "monster," the creature tries so badly to belong to the community. But after being shunned and scorned, it comes to the creator and demands a companion. When the scientist refuses, the creature "vows to be with him on his wedding night" and take the most precious thing away from him, which he does. I felt like at times I wanted to take the gift of "fluent speech" away from those who teases me. But I know now that I have a gift, that was brought out by the NSA. I have a gift where I can impact other teammates and make a difference. I have a gift where I can share my love of the NSA with the world. And I have a gift...of a loud, outspoken voice that will never be silenced. To all those reading this, you can forgive. You can forget. You can learn there's another side to stuttering: a side with love, hope, and most importantly, confidence and pride. I stutter....and I am a fighter! And a forgiver. 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, April 16, 2009

Oh what a April 2009, not December 1963

Good evening everyone. I write this blog tonight still on one of the greatest adrenaline highs that I have experienced as a person who stutters. It is with great pleasure that I present to you this edition of the blog, with all the special meaning it entails. On Monday night, April 13, I saw power. I saw children and teens embrace glory and desire to hold it forever. And perhaps most importantly of all, I saw first-hand that you can be a person who stutters and have the confidence and the passion to take on the world at full throttle. This was the Our Time Theatre Benefit Gala, held at the Skirball Pavilion, located at New York University. Being a teammate at the National Stuttering Association as well as the Long Island Chapter Leader, I know there are many organizations that are devoted to the cause of stuttering awareness. I think it's imperative to support them. You've heard me say before that anyone can write a check, and that's all well and good. But to get involved-to show your support, to say "I CARE about what happens" has more of an impact than one can ever imagine. Our Time Theatre was founded a few years ago by one of my NSA teammates who is an actor who stutters. The vision of Our Time Theatre is to give children and teens who stutter an artistic venue where they can express themselves free of bullying and humilation. At this gala, there was a special performance by several members of varying ages and backgrounds, backed by numerous celebrity personalities who have appeared on the Great White Way. But to see these kids and teens feeling alive, and saying what they want, doing it the way they want to, is such an empowering experience. I will never forget one moment that night, which featured a speech written by a senior member of the group. Speaking about how she was on the verge of suicide because of her speech, she exclaimed "I stutter and I am so damn proud," there was such a thunderous ovation. This was her coming-out party. It makes me think of a line from the song "I Could Not Ask For More" by Edwin McCain: "These are the moments I'll remember all my life...I've got all I've waited for, and I could not ask for more." As the performance ended and I went upstairs for dinner, I had the honor of meeting some of these noteworthy actors/actresses and talking to them about the performance. I met a recording artist who has a family member who stutters. Some of them have been regulars at this event, but for a few this was their first time-and they too, were blown away by just how strong and overwhelming the Our Time Theatre kids are. They overwhelmed their speech, not the other way around. Before I left the Pavilion that night to catch the 11:09 back to the suburbs, I looked out the window and saw the skyline of the Empire State Building, standing ever so tall like a watchtower guarding the city, but yet welcoming you, like a long-lost friend stepping off a plane. We often identify the Statue of Liberty as the major symbol of New York, for freedom, security, and to welcome those who hope to make their goals achieveable. Well, for those who want to make their goals happen in the theatre, please check out Our Time, at New York City to me, has always loved the underdog, and in many ways, all the teammates who stutter may very well be considered underdogs because of all the challenges we face on a daily basis. I think that night, New York City embraced a few more underdogs. I know I did. 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, April 11, 2009

A story about Applebee's, and acceptance vs. resignation

Good evening everyone,

Tonight I had to come home and start blogging after a very interesting experience at dinner. I went out with a friend of mine to the Applebee's location in Airport Plaza in Farmingdale, and we happened to be seated by the hostess right next to a very large group of twenty black people. As my friend and I were giving our orders to the waitress, I was having a great deal of difficulty (otherwise known as a bad speech day, and I accept that it ebbs and flows), and as my food came, one of the kids in the group was telling his friend "Did you notice how he was stuttering on every word?" followed by some clapping of the hands and laughing. Although I was irritated, I politely walked over to the young man, who mustn't have been more than twelve or thirteen, and I said, "Excuse me, but I was the person who was stuttering. Do you think that's funny? I am not ashamed of the fact I stutter at all, in fact, I am proud to." All of a sudden, he and the table got very quiet. Afterward, I walked back and finished my meal. One hour later, my friend and I got up to leave, and the waitress came over and said that the host of the group had generously offered to pay for my meal. I politely declined but thanked him for his respectful gesture.

I am a very easygoing person, in fact, some might describe me as gregarious. But not only am I am a teammate at the NSA, and a chapter leader, but I am a person who stutters. And I am not very shy about letting others know that it is not appropriate to tease, or mock anyone in that manner. I think it's important, no, it's essential, that if you stutter, if you see a teammate or anyone else who does not understand that their actions can hurt others, educate them. One act of kindness really does make a difference.

I've said many times that as a person who stutters, there must be a journey that you have to take. A journey of self-acceptance, where you can say with pride that you are a person who stutters. But while I am saying that, there is a big difference between acceptance vs. resignation. This could be a whole blog topic in itself, but I want to address it here. It's about attitude. A major theme of my workshop last year, and hopefully this one too. Acceptance, with a positive attitude, means pride in the fact you stutter. It means you can walk around and embrace it-even on a day when you may block horrendously. It means you can show the world that I stutter-and never will it define me.

On the other side of the spectrum though, is resignation. With a negative attitude, resignation means you accept your stutter and the stranglehold it will have. You accept that it's OK to be laughed at, because it's all you know. It takes one attitude to make it through life-why not make it positive?

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, April 10, 2009

Do you have a handler?

Good evening everyone,

I would like to first wish everyone a very happy and joyous holiday, whether you are celebrating Passover or Easter. There's something special about this time, because while we may have legally entered the spring season according to the calendar, these two holidays let us know that the summer is soon to come, with the promise of long days and truly dazzling nights.

That being said, I was inspired to write this blog after having the second Seder with my family and my uncle, along with his wife. Along with chatting about life, politics, and sports, the discussion turned to current events, and one of my family members commented "Does anyone really say anything anymore? These days, it's mostly the handlers. What happened to taking accountability and saying what's on your mind?"

It's interesting if you think about it. When I was younger and struggling with my speech, I never really say myself as having a handler. But as I began to work in speech therapy and get involved with the National Stuttering Association, I realized that I, too, had become a handler unbeknowst to me. When I'd go out to dinner on a Saturday night at the local diner, the familiar waiter would come to greet us, and then inevitably, the sense of dread would come over me. I knew what was coming....I was a dead man walking. The words would come out, I'd freeze, and all of a sudden I was the petri dish in the microscope being examined seven different ways to Sunday. And then the waiter would finish my sentences. I suppose at that point in time, it didn't bother me. But in the same process, I had created a handler.

If you're comfortable with having a handler, and some are, you're also comfortable with settling for less than you want. You see, you want to say something, but you don't. You want to tell someone how you're feeling, but you let that other person make that decision for you. Don't give that power to someone else. It only belongs to one person-and that's you. Every time you speak, you're taking more and more power away from the handler.

There are many NSA teammates of mine who are involved in Toastmasters, and have achieved great success with it. Good speakers are never born, they always learn. It isn't so much about speaking to an audience as it is believing what you say. Believe you are important. Believe that you will be listened to, and you will garner the respect. But most importantly, above all else, believe you are not your stuttering.

I will always carry a debt of gratitude to Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., for giving me my first chance to speak. Four years ago, never could I have imagined being a guest lecturer. So far, I've been panelists at Teachers College-Columbia University, Long Island University-Brooklyn, and I have spoken at William Paterson University, and Seton Hall University. So when someone asks me who my handler is, I say "You're talking to him."

In some ways, you can't get me to keep quiet. But doesn't that feel good to know I will never be quiet again? It sure does!

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, April 2, 2009

Stuttering and the "real America....."

Good evening all,

I was inspired to write this blog today because I had a thought about what a neighbor told me recently. I usually don't have a chance to speak to my neighbors, after all, we're on different schedules and most times we're lucky if we even say "hello" to each other. But my neighbors know I stutter, and we actually were chatting for a few minutes, which was rare, and we were discussing the current events of the world. He closed the conversation with this quote: "The real America doesn't exist anymore. No one cares about each other, hell, no one wants to help each other."

Growing up in high school I always used to enjoy the classes were politics would be brought up. I love history, and learning about how this country rose to power and came to being. You also learn about how this is the "land of the free, home of the brave," but I really believe that is not always true. There are many sides of this country where we are still divided, where it is us vs. them. I used to believe in my college years that I stuttered, therefore I wasn't....I wasn't anything. It was always me against the world. It could have been me against the that's something else I am thinking of.

Every day we read the newspapers and check the Internet, and something else is happening. There's more finger-pointing. Someone is saying don't blame me, it's this other person's fault. Another company cut jobs because they had no choice. And you begin to really wonder if that's true...that the real America doesn't exist anymore. For those people who think that's true....I would like to tell you about the National Stuttering Association. The "real America" exists with them. It's where one teammate stands up for another. It's where a family who doesn't know where to turn can call and ask for help. It's a place where hope never dies for anyone who stutters. I firmly believe that for four days out of the year, the NSA conference is summer camp/empowerment/the real America all rolled into one. The nights spent laughing, crying, just being there. Yes, Facebook is great. But there is just no better feeling than seeing one of your teammates, giving them a crisp, firm handshake or powerful hug, to show you are genuinely happy to see them. This is the real America. And the four days of feeling can, and will carry you through the other 361.

I'll be there in Arizona....I hope you'll join 630 teammates of mine 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.