Friday, March 27, 2009

A return to where my Quantum Leap began...

Good evening everyone,

Have you ever had something really big happen in your life, so life-altering that you remember where and when it exactly happened? If you have ever experienced a spontaneous burst of emotion so powerful that time just stopped and stood still for a moment, this blog will remind you of how special emotions can be.

One of the many passions I have involving the NSA is doing public speaking to undergraduate and graduate classes about stuttering. It may surprise some people (or not), but many people who stutter are deathly afraid of public speaking, and fear it more than actually dying. It is with such inspiration and admiration that I look to my teammates who not only host seminars at the NSA conference, but launch their own revolutions whenever they say what is on their mind and help the future speech language pathologists understand what stuttering is all about it. This past week, I had the pleasure of speaking at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J. For those who are unfamiliar with the area, South Orange is west of New York City, located right off I-280 and within striking distance of Newark. The school is well known for their basketball team...but how I found myself there was because I had contacted the school to express a desire to speak to classes in the department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. It was how I came to meet Dr. Dayalu and his class of students. Returning to New Jersey was for me symbolic of what I consider the climax of my journey. You see, all my teammates have a favorite conference:maybe it's the location, meeting of their significant other, and so on. But after that conference, I came home knowing I am proud I stutter. My flame was ignited for this great organization, and it's never going out. Maybe the rest of the world may think New Jersey is just long drives on interstates. Yet, I will always have a special place in my heart for what the state did for me at the NSA conference. It allowed me to understand that while self-acceptance of my stutter is important, it is also about the journey that led me there. I know some may think it's cliched, but it's true.

One of the aims I have when I speak about my stuttering is to be raw and honest. I know sometimes the phrase "too much information" comes to mind, but when you talk about how something has impacted your life so much, there is no such thing as too much anything. I love life, even though I have and always will face more challenges than some other people. I know how resilient I can be. I am happy with who I am. And yes, I did sing a Britney Spears song. I have a good time when I speak, and I want to make sure those who listen know just how important it is to represent yourself strongly as a person who stutters. I know I may march to the beat of my own drummer. But don't we all?

I want to acknowledge the students of the class for listening to my lecture, and to thank the professor for inviting me-I hope I can return soon. But most important, I want to thank the students for their dedication and passion to this craft. I do hope some of them will join us for NSA 2009, or a future conference, and find out just what can happen when 630+ teammates raise their voices, and continue to do so. You're all going to make a great difference in someone's lives. And for those who got to raise the Cup (haha, couldn't resist) remember that "Cup" when you get your degree. Make sure you raise it 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.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

If you're angry...give your anger a voice and join the NSA!

Good evening everyone,

The newspaers all over are expressing outrage from citizens about the extreme bonuses given to AIG executives in this age of bailouts. I couldn't believe when I read in one article that some former employees actually fear for their lives because of the hatred being spewed by those who resent what happened. When you're angry about something, it's only normal to react based on emotion. And for some, anger evolves into wanting to make a difference. And that is one reason, among others, that I joined the National Stuttering Association.

One of my favorite television shows growing up was "Family Matters," aka the Steve Urkel Show. I'll never forget one episode, where Eddie Winslow was pulled over by two Chicago police officers and harrassed because he was black. And when he broke down in front of his father because he was angry about it, his father said something I can still remember: "You can let that anger eat you up inside, or you can do something and give that anger a voice. That's why I became a police officer." I felt so angry with everything about my life..angry that I felt "different," angry that my parents were indifferent, angry about everything. I am very raw and open about my speech. I admit to everyone I just didn't know how to deal. I tried cutting, and please, don't ever ever do that. I decided that on a spur of the moment to attend the National Stuttering Association. Nothing has ever been the same since and my life has come full circle.

There are some people who stutter who accept things the way they are, and there's nothing wrong with that. But maintaining the status quo means that things won't change unless you want them to. Because of those days I spent in California, I saw the potential I had. I saw just how dynamic I can be. One person can really make a difference. I've seen how my teammates make difference in their own communities, and I share their stories-stories of how one teammate attends a chapter meeting for the first time and is overcome with emotion that they found it.

I want everyone to know how truly great the National Stuttering Association is. If you are angry and hurting, reach out to us. If you are alone, reach out to us. Our teammates and myself will help you. I am as accountable to everyone, and make sure your voice is heard. Don't doubt one person can change the world...sometimes it is the only constant in life.

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

Take two...this just shows you it's all about attitude!

Good evening everyone. I want to apologize for what was once again an inadvertant slip of my fingers...don't you hate it when that happens?

That being said, I wanted to use this edition of the blog to make an interesting observation. Ever since I have joined the NSA, I have been an outspoken advocate and will continue to do so, that it is all about attitude and how you view things. Last night, as I was online after my mom (for the hundredth time) said I needed to go out and date LOL, I was reading the New York Craigslist site, just perusing the items on there (and it's a fun site to check out), I saw a personal ad that was posted by a woman in Manhattan-and all I could focus was on the last line: "If you hate women who have kids, don't waste my time and yours, please leave me alone!"

Now, upon reading that, my first inclination was to feel sad for her if that's how she feels. This is a free country, and we're allowed to think and feel how we want. But even more so than that, this person has an unhealthy attitude, and the way she approaches it is frightening-she may think she's doing the right thing, but all she is doing is scaring off anyone who would potentially want to get to know her-it's the same thing with being a person who stutters. It's about HOW you view yourself!

We, as teammates and people who stutter, have the desire to alter ourselves, whether it's for better or worse. I used to think for the longest time I was a victim of circumstance-after all, some are born lucky, others just happen to be at the right place at the right time. In high school and in college, I would often keep to myself. Despite the refrains of hearing "College will be so much different," it wasn't. I didn't realize until too late that until I joined the National Stuttering Association, I could say what I wanted to and not feel ostracized for it. The human self is a very powerful thing. I don't want to use the power to put myself down anymore. It isn't a pleasant experience. Sometimes I'd walk into a movie theater on a Saturday night after struggling to say the name of the movie, and in essence, my whole night was ruined. I don't feel that way anymore. The world is not always a tolerant place for those who think they are different. I am not a freak. I just happen to stutter and do so proudly. Confidence is a sexy turn-on, in so many ways. And sometimes it does start with looking in the mirror.

I know it can be scary. Because we are our worst enemies. If you have the chance, do yourself a favor and listen to the song "Don't Let Me Get Me" by Pink. We are all originals, and sure, we stutter, some of my teammates may do so on different words. But I am not going to let me get me. I like who I am. I like that I can say my thoughts and the world is going to hear me.

And as for that woman who posted the ad, and inspired this blog, I want to say one thing: I hope that you do realize that if you have a good attitude, you will find what you are looking for. I know I found what I did, thanks to 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.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The story of Lucky......

Good morning everyone. It's slightly after 1 a.m. here on the East Coast, and like most of the world, today was focused on St. Patrick's Day. I always like to think that March, along with July, October, November, December and January has a special bond because of one thought that crosses all party lines-it's about luck. St. Patrick's Day has always been about that...the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or maybe kicking back with a few friends sharing in some brews. But today, I want to share with you a story about what it means to be Lucky. First, I am issuing a disclaimer. This does not refer to getting "lucky" in the sense that one thinks it does (yes, I know there are some with dirty minds LOL), nor does it refer to a song by Britney Spears. This is all about seeing yourself as lucky....because you stutter and you are part of an unbelievable community.

Now hold on a second, some of you may have read that and wondered "Huh? What is he talking about?" Well, allow me to explain. As the precious few seconds of the semi-formal banquet ticked away at last year's conference in North Jersey, I became flooded with emotions. I make no apologies for wearing my heart on my sleeve, I am raw and honest with my stuttering. The conference in North Jersey, as far as I am concerned, was the most pivotal moment in my life. I was sharing it with a fellow NSA teammate and chapter leader from the West Coast, and we were just chatting, and she said "Do you realize now lucky you are to be part of this community? A lot of people don't have that." And for the first time, I couldn't hold it anymore. I broke down and started to cry...somewhat because the conference was ending, but because I realize how lucky I really am in this world.

So what makes a person lucky? A special coin? A rabbit's foot? None of the above. What makes you lucky is a belief that you are somebody. You are a person who has all the untapped potential to make things happen. In many ways, to accept that I am a person who stutters has been the luckiest thing in my life. It's done so many things for me: It's introduced me to the NSA and my teammates who I love more than life itself. It's shown me that I can take charge of my speech and dictate how I want to speak. It's shown me that I can speak in public and share this truly amazing gift with others.

Of course my NSA teammates also have stories of struggles too. Stories about wanting to approach a member of the opposite sex, only to have the words fumble around and end up with egg on their face. Stories about job interviews and only imagining what the interviewer is thinking as they express themselves. We are lucky to have such an environment where we can be free with each other. Some people spend their whole lives trying to find that one place to run to. Even though the conference takes up four days of the calendar year, in many ways, it goes on year round, through each teammate's eyes. Yes, we may be there physically in one place for that time. But we're never really alone.

I remember vividly as if it was yesterday receiving an award at the awards banquet in New Jersey, for Volunteer of the Year. I am fiercely proud of that achievement. But I never forget my teammates and how lucky they are that I share their hopes, their dreams. Their successes are mine, and vice versa. I think back to how on July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig made his famous "Today I consider myself...." speech. I am the luckiest man on the earth. And even on my worse days, I know it's true.

I want to close with a special all those around the world who are reading my blog and leaving me comments, I want you to know how truly grateful I am for your viewpoints. The stuttering community is getting stronger, our voices are getting louder. We are all so very lucky. If you're not a member of the National Stuttering Association, please become one. We're all teammates.

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

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Freedom from stuttering! Forever!

Good evening everyone. As I write this blog, I am looking through some of my old clippings from my academic journalism studies, and I came across an old review of "V for Vendetta," which was a movie from 2005 about a modern vigilante who embraces the idea of rebellion against a totalitarianistic society. The one theme above all else in the movie is that only when you accept something, can you be set free. How very relevant that is true, especially when it comes to stuttering.

This past week I had the pleasure of being a panelist for a forum of teammates who stutter at a class held at Long Island University-Brooklyn. Of course, there were topics discussed that included remembering the first time we stuttered, our experiences with different techniques, and how far we have come in the journey of self-acceptance. It is by doing this that we give ourselves power. We see our self-esteem grow with every day, we say what we want and do what we want. What is gratifying to me is that when we speak to future speech-language pathologists, they are listening intently and glowing with pride as they see the barriers shattered and our personalities becoming more enthusiastic, and dominant when it comes to our speech.

There may be some out there who feel very angry and bitter about their speech. They may feel that complaining to anyone who will listen will make them feel better. I suppose in theory, that works temporarily, but I can promise you no one is going to give you sympathy. For so long, I used to expect that, and finally realized that the only place you find sympathy is in the local bar. But then again, the bartender(s) give sympathy to everyone. My speech therapist and I were discussing this tonight at our weekly session, and when I first met him, I was fearful about returning to speech therapy. After so long of not being involved, I felt like I was so out of it, almost to the point where I wondered if this was even worth it. It's now been almost two years later...and on a good day, I can be 80 percent fluent when I speak. I can look in the mirror and say my own name, and know that I will be stronger every time I can do so.

I thought I'd close this posting with a twist on another supporting theme in the movie. In "V for Vendetta," there's an emphasis on how fear becomes so powerful that it is all people know. For a person who stutters, they may know a world of hatred, isolation, and alienation. They may actually fear their stuttering. One of the lines in the movie says "People shouldn't fear their governments. Governments should fear their people." Well, in terms of stuttering........

"You shouldn't fear your stuttering. But your stuttering should fear YOU!"

I hope my teammates around the world remember that, and put that to good practice. My name is Steven Kaufman, and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

3, 2, 1....and we have liftoff

Good afternoon everyone. I thought some of you might find that title a little intriguing for my blog today, and with good reason. Last Saturday, Feb. 28, I made a journey to Albany County to get together with my NSA teammates in the St. Rose chapter. Albany County is home to our state capitol, and many colleges within half an hour, St. Rose being one of them. For this trip was to me another example of growing and learning about stuttering, and sharing that quest with my fellow teammates. The St. Rose NSA chapter had a viewing of the movie "Rocket Science," followed by a discussion about the themes in the movie.

"Rocket Science" is must-see viewing for any teammate who stutters, or wants to know more about stuttering as a whole. These days in Hollywood, everyone is all about "political correctness." Controversy doesn't sell tickets anymore, at least not as much as it once did. Now it's about independent features, these are the ones people remember instead of the big-budget blockbusters. And there's good reason to remember this movie. The protagonist in this movie is a teen who struggles with his speech as a person who stutters....only to be invited to join the debate team. That concept in itself may be enough for a person to wish they had root canal three times over. But he does join, only to fall for the girl who invited him to join. In a cruel twist, she leaves to go to another school, leaving him all alone to find another partner. In reality, she invited him to join so that he would damage the team's chances to win. Regardless, the movie is so important to see because it's genuine. It's raw. It gives a sincere look into what it is like to be a teen struggling with stuttering, as it impacts his life in so many ways.

In the very last scene of the movie, the teen (his name is Hal) is questioning a lot of things, and his father makes a comment "Be grateful for what you have," as the film comes to a close. That definitely inspired a lot of discussion amongst us-does Hal really win? Does he lose? What does he have, but yet most importantly, what do we have?

It's hard for us to wake up many times and accept the world we live in today-financial collapse, win-at-all-costs mentality, text messaging as a complement to regular communication. We cannot control the world around us, nor can we control others who may think less of us. We can only control one person: that's us, as individuals. We can control how we look at our speech. We can control how fluent on a given day we can be.

But what do we have? I know what me and my teammates have: We have confidence. We have hope. We have a power to not let our stuttering come between us and anything. We have passion and desire. And if you have those things, you too can "blast off" and do anything you want. Check out the movie on DVD. It's definitely well worth the investment, and then some.

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