Sunday, July 26, 2009

Do we really have to walk alone?

Good evening everyone,

The National Stuttering Association offers teammates so many opportunities which are not necessarily restricted to social or professional categories. When I travel to these conferences, I relish the chance to be an absolute beginner when it comes to learning-and it's not just about stuttering, but life in general. I take pride in meeting and relating to all my teammates, regardless of whether they are the young first-timers or seasoned veterans. But sometimes you find yourself a participant in a conversation and you are intrigued about something, and no matter how long after the chat ends, you can't help but want to think about some more.

On the last night of the conference, I am very emotional because the banquet, while it is sheer exuberance, is also bittersweet, marking the end. The next day, we all go back to our jobs and cell phone messages to respond to, as life resumes. But it was at this time that I happened to be talking with one of my teammates who was attending for the second time. He works in law enforcement and as we were chatting, I asked him if he would ever want (or had wanted) to bring his wife to a conference. He's very happily married, and it's not at all uncommon to meet one's future girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband at the NSA conferences. I've met many teammates who have brought their significant other or current partner with them, and while one of them may stutter, the other teammate gets just as much out of the workshops and social gatherings too. After all, something like this which is so empowering, so grand and dazzling that the human spirit that we feel at times may have been extinguished because of our negative experiences is burning brightly than might want surely to share this with your loved ones. And when I asked him about it, he said (and perhaps to my surprise) that chances are he would not bring his wife, as he cited (and I am paraphrasing) "This is a path that I have to walk alone."

I couldn't help but think about that for a few days afterward. In some ways, I do surely empathize with how he feels. It can be very easy to say "Well try walking a mile in my shoes and see how it is," and I do admit that before I found the NSA that was a sentiment I shared. I had a heart that was filled for hate-not just myself because of the vocal spasms I had to endure and the feeling of being probed under a social microscope, but for others who were able to express themselves clearly. My speech therapist (who ironically does not stutter) has told me time and again that "you do not feel bad because you stutter, you feel bad for the others who have to listen to you." Not anymore. I say what's on my mind, and you will hear it. Even if you choose to tune me out, you're still going to hear it. My heart now is filled with the greatest love in the world for the NSA.

For many teammates, it is conceivable that it can take a great traveling of many steps to attend an NSA conference. As a chapter leader, I consistently encourage all my teammates to attend. But even if I wasn't a chapter leader, I would still do it anyway. Am I selling the NSA? Yes! Do I advertise the NSA? Of course...but that's for a whole other blog entry. I don't get anything out of it but the pride of seeing a teammate who stutters enjoying their time. At the banquet and throughout, I would often venture up to the first-timers and say "Are you having a great time?" And as if on cue, the answers are an enthusiastic yes with a big smile. There's laughter, there's tears...but most of all, there's LIFE....on full display!

I don't attend these conferences looking to meet my future girlfriend/fiancee. If it happens, that's all well and good, and it will definitely be a big bonus. But regardless, I would hope she would want to attend an NSA conference and see the experience. And if she doesn't, that's OK too. Just as long as she knows the NSA will always come first in my life. I used to walk alone....but I've got 600+ teammates who walk with me. If you want a friend, go to MySpace. If you want a teammate, come to the NSA. We will walk together with you.

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, July 20, 2009

Karma, Arizona, and building your base of teammates!

Good evening everyone,

One of the biggest highlights when the National Stuttering Association annual conference is ongoing is the Friday night activity selection, of which a baseball game is usually incorporated. Although I missed out on the Angels game in Long Beach because I signed up at the last minute, I do not miss the game when the tickets go on sale for teammates to purchase. From a Braves-Nationals affair in Atlanta, to the Subway Series in New York, you can't beat the thrill of chatting with your teammates and falling in love all over again with the NSA over a hot dog and cold beer. This year, about 100+ teammates and I went to Chase Field to see the Arizona Diamondbacks host the Florida Marlins. As I was perusing the free program, I wanted to share some observations on a column written by Derrick M. Hall, the CEO of the team. He acknowledges that while the season has been a challenge, he also knows that "it is in trying times that fan bases are established." He also writes how he admires those other organizations who may not win yearly, but still have devout followers.

I like to think of the NSA as the world's greatest fan club for teammates who stutter. Or, as one of my other teammates unofficially coined the phrase "The world's biggest block party." However, at one time the NSA was dangerously close to closing it doors forever. I am frightened to think of a world where this truly amazing organization would not exist. At this past conference, we set a record with 160 first-timers, who have experienced the power and love of the National Stuttering Association and what we do. Some of them, when they find out that at one time we almost ceased to exist, are puzzled as to why. Similar to what Mr. Hall wrote, it is in these times when we find out who stands with the NSA and who doesn't.

I always enjoy watching the auction, and listening to the opening remarks by our auctioneer. Our auctioneer is an inductee into the NSA Hall of Fame, as well as a caring veterinarian. And while we do actively raise funds because we are nonprofit, we too also know that our teammates will stand up for the NSA. I hope to participate next year in the auction, in addition to donating in any way I can.

At the opening ceremonies, our chair spoke about how the NSA is now the single biggest support organization for teammates who stutter. To think a few years ago how we were struggling and now, to run full-page advertisements in absolutely makes me proud....and forever honored to be part of the NSA. Now is the time to get involved. If you can't donate money, donate your time. Write. Help us with our web site. Prepare fundraising letters. As the theme from "Rent" goes, "There is no day but today!"

And to close on an interesting note.....I am a firm believer in karma. What you give really will come back to you. On the night we went to the game, Friday, July 10, 2009, the Arizona Diamondbacks were in last place. (they still are, and probably will be for the rest of the year). Wouldn't you know, the home team won 9-0, with Dan Haren throwing a complete game, six-hit shutout. And to top it all off....we had 602 teammates in attendance. The area code for Phoenix just happens to be 602. Some things really are special magic, and you know you were blessed to be part of it. I definitely was. So were 602 other 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.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

It Can Be Sunny....If You Want It To Be

Good evening everyone,

One of the greatest attributes that the NSA conference offers is the chance to not just interact with teammates in a positive environment, but the continued chance to do so year-round through social networking sites. While the conference physically takes four days, it’s undeniable that the power, passion, and purpose (try saying that three times fast!) goes on 24/7/365. Stuttering knows no offseason, and neither does our resolve.

Recently I posted a message about how life really is beautiful when you stutter, and I received an interesting response from one of my teammates. This teammate attended the conference in North Jersey 2008, but was not able to make it to Arizona for this year. Last year, he was what we call a “first-timer” (we all were at one time), and he too, was swept up in the infectious enthusiasm and joy of becoming an NSA teammate-learning that he is not alone, and having the time of his life, learning and celebrating all that stuttering is and what it will be: we laugh, we cry, we share as one.

The response that I received was one of whether stuttering is a gift or a curse, which is one of the frequently asked questions amongst NSA teammates. For those who understand it, and who have persevered despite the innumerable setbacks we’ve had, you may understand why they feel like it is a gift, like I do. However, at the opposite end of the spectrum, there is extreme anger at being a teammate who stutters. Anger and hatred, of one’s self, of the world they see and have become accustomed to. It is because of this world that in his/her eyes, a new world is created: where love is lost, darkness envelops the light, and all hope for transforming their life is gone. This response ended with “Unfortunately, we all can’t be as positive as you are, Steven.”

Although I am very proud and open with the fact that I stutter, I relate very well to these sentiments that this teammate is thinking, because I was him. On some days, I do echo those sentiments. Open up the newspaper on a given day, and we see evidence the world is going down the toilet: another company is laying people off and cutting jobs. The fingers are pointed everywhere except at those who are responsible. I face great challenges, we all do. I am looking for full-time work and yet I too struggle at interviews, and in social situations. I do not know how to explain this, but I have made great strides socially and for that, I am forever indebted to the sole reason why that has happened, the NSA. I love going up to teammates of all diverse age and backgrounds and talking with them, learning about their passions and their lives-what their hopes and dreams are.

I also understand that each teammate of mine is at different points on their journey of self-acceptance as a person who stutters. For some teammates, coming to this conference was a major step in embracing who they are, and finding out they need not have to fear their stuttering. For others, they are hurting and scared. My advice to them is there is nothing to fear. The NSA stands up for all.

I recently went to the movies, and found a quote from a trailer that could very well sum up the NSA perfectly. Paramount Pictures is releasing a version “G.I. Joe” later this summer, and one of the characters says “When all else fails, we don’t.” The NSA will never fail to take care of their own-because we take care of each other.

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, July 16, 2009

Good evening everyone,

The years of our lives are often filled with peaks and valleys, as the expression goes. We have times when we feel so alive, transformed into dazzling and powerful human beings, and then we experience those times that try our souls, as Thomas Paine used to say. And then, we have times that you count down the whole year for, to be in a certain environment where time stands still. Where you are free to be yourself, to share, to challenge yourself and your beliefs about stuttering. That time came and passed, and it never gets old. It is what I live for, and we strive to attend each year in the summer. I give you the National Stuttering Association 2009 Annual Conference.

This year has been one of the most demanding. We're living in unprecedented times right now. And when the NSA announced that we were going to be in Scottsdale, in July....the voices were raised: "Do you know how hot it's going to be?" was the most asked question. But if you really think about it, the site of the conference doesn't matter as much as the substance. Yes, it's nice to get on a sold-out plane and have so much space to move about the country (note the sarcasm, although I love Southwest), but I wouldn't care if the conference was held on a dude ranch in Cheyenne, Wyoming. I will follow the NSA anywhere.

I have had the honor of presenting my workshop for two straight conferences. There's no greater honor than standing up in front of your peers and helping them reach deep down in their souls and make them examine and then re-examine their feelings on stuttering. At this conference, we had 600 teammates in attendance, and about 160 of those were first-timers. A record number for the NSA, for sure. I never get tired of watching the metamorphisis of teens and adults who come in feeling so frightened, and by the end, they're laughing, dancing, and sharing.

This year's conference, by the nature of the fact that we held it at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, had a distinctly unique summer-camp feel to it. During the wee hours of the morning (and doesn't it feel good to be swimming at 1 am West Coast time), many of my teammates were just gathered by the pool, laughing, commenting about life, our goals, and our dreams. In some ways, we all live vicariously through each other. Our goals are each other's goals. We triumph together, we cry together.

All the conferences I've attended (and it's been four so far) have been unique in its own identity. But this one has a special place in my heart because I now know, that I am in love with the National Stuttering Association. This conference had moments you always remember: You remember what it feels like to connect so powerfully and talk about your stuttering with another teammate. You remember that you wake up, and no matter how angry or frustrated you get, you know that there's a place where we are all accepted and welcome.

Was it hot in Scottsdale? Of course it was. (Then again, coming from someone who wore a Yankees jacket out there, it may not have been at all). But it's safe to say that while Arizona brought the heat, we also brought hotter heat: More chapters are getting started, more teammates want to present seminars.....I'm crying as I write this because it is special. I love my teammates and would give anything if they needed it.

To my NSA teammates, I love you forever. To those future teammates who want to join us, please check out It may be the best decision you ever made. There are 160 teammates who will very happily give you references.

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, July 14, 2009

I celebrated my Independence Day without barbecues....

Good evening everyone,

I want to begin this edition of the blog by apologizing for a little bit of a lapse with new postings. In the next few days you will see more and more entries from me, as I just have returned home from what may very well be described as the crown jewel of NSA all the years that this amazing conference has been in existence, this past gathering of teammates from around the continental U.S. and the world may have been the most special of all. And although Independence Day has passed, I'd like to focus on it, if you'll permit me.

Independence Day is always celebrated by remembering the veterans and heroes who gave their lives for this country to allow us to enjoy the freedoms-the freedom to say our thoughts and not be retaliated against, the freedom to go as we please. For some, it's seen as the halfway point that the summer of 2009 is over, for others, a perfect reason to bring out the barbecue and throw the burgers and hot dogs on the grill, along with ice cold beverages, and watch the local ballgame. It's about experiencing pride as you see the fireworks explode over the nation's capital in poetic motion, as the 1812 Overture blasts over the loudspeakers. But I want to tell you about a special way I celebrated Independence Day, and it wasn't even in July.

For those who have my followed my blog, you know have I often spoken about how my days of Long Beach, Calif., have permanently altered my life forever. We often speak of defining moments in our lives, for these are the ones you remember forever, exactly what you did and where you were. The experiences I had at the Long Beach conference were my Independence Day. I took a stand. I gave my feelings about being angry that I stuttered a positive voice. I stopped running, and faced my frustrations and anxieties head-on, and with the support of my teammates, many of whom I keep in touch with to this day. Was the road long? Sure. Did I fall a few times? Well, of course I did. I wouldn't be human if I didn't. Traveling to the other side of the coast led to my Independence Day. I really wish that everyone could experience the sheer joy and power of this event, but I know for some they may be unable to. Or they might want to work up the strength to do so.

You can make your own Independence Day happen, though. The moment you say, "I am going to speak my mind," that's your Independence Day. When you decide that others are going to listen to you, no matter how long it takes, that's when your Independence Day begins. Maybe it's July 4. Maybe it's April 13th. Or just perhaps it could be tomorrow. But celebrate Independence Day from stuttering every day!!

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