Friday, December 25, 2009

Maybe it really is a wonderful life after all......

Good evening everyone,

The last Christmas of this decade is about to come to a close tonight, and I will definitely miss it for sure. Even though I am Jewish, you can't help but appreciate and become awestruck by this time of year-walking past houses with their decorations such as inflatable snow globes, and perusing the local mall which is all lit up with the sounds of the season. Today, very few restaurants are businesses are open, with the exception of the movies, and there are some movies that relate very well to stuttering. The NSA welcomed Jeffrey Blitz, the creator of "Rocket Science," to speak at our New Jersey conference, for example. But this Christmas, I sat down and watched a movie I'd never seen before, and was wowed at how relevant the themes of it are. Christmas and Frank Capra just seem to go together.

Of course, I speak of "It's A Wonderful Life," which is one of the timeless movies of this generation. Released in 1946, it tells the story of George Bailey, a man who has tremendous values. A person who continually sacrifices his goals for the betterment of his town and the world he lives on. He had hoped to be an architect and travel the world, but he decides to wait until his son can take his place at the Bailey Building & Loan Association. As the movie continues, he finds out that on his honeymoon that the association is in danger of collpasing, so he and his wife take the money designated for that occasion and give it to the bank to prevent it from closing.

I am not going to tell you the rest of the movie for obvious reasons. But we all know how he tries to end his life and his guardian angel pleads to help him. It's at this time, that the audience is shown what would have happened had he never been born.

There are many people in the world who don't understand what stuttering is, and may even dispute what it means to struggle with communication. Stuttering can be as debilitating as other conditions-I often felt for the longest time that it is akin to "dying a vocal death," but it's not a one-time thing. It's every day, and it happens at any time. A person who stutters may choose a vocation far beneath them, or may avoid social interaction because that they're afraid.

Although I am confident in my speech, there were pre-NSA times when I did feel very ashamed of my stuttering and guilty. I could just sense it in the other person's eyes. I have very good days and bad speech days. In fact, yesterday I had one of my worst speech days. I walked into the local Subway on Christmas Eve, six blocks or so from my house. I usually go there several times a month, and they know what I get. (Please, try the footlong turkey-double stacked, with onions, lettuce, carrots, pickles, green pepper, and cucumber, chipotle dressing). I digress, though.

I knew what I wanted to say. But I blocked on every single word! I felt that larynx begin to squeeze, leading to my vowel suffocation. I frantically tried every technique I could, but it just made it worse. Eventually, the manager figured out what I wanted to say, but I refused to allow him to accept that. I wished I would have been anywhere else. But I left the store knowing that I am thankful that I can never allow myself to surrender.

Thinking back to the movie, I am sure there are times (in fact, I know there are) when we often ask ourselves what life would be like if we didn't stutter. Or what if we wished we had some other challenge to overcome? I can remember those high school and college days of anguish, wishing I was deaf in addition to stuttering, that way I would never have to hear what was being said about me.

Despite all the challenges we face (and there will be more and more of them), I keep thinking maybe I really do have a "wonderful life." Yes, I know I have a lot of things I would like: More money, a nicer car, and that special woman. And I have some things that I can't change: I can't change the relationship I have with my parents when it comes to my speech. I also have a very powerful love in my life. A love of a special organization where people who stutter come together to celebrate everything it was, it is, what it will be. A love that renews itself every day. And the feeling of counting down to those days in July when I will give my fellow people who stutter a big hug and say "It's great to see you again." And the feeling that I am home, and so in love with the National Stuttering Association.

On my worst days, just remember: Your life is valuable. Make sure the world allows you to share your voice and special gifts.

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, December 21, 2009

I am proud that I stutter!

Good afternoon everyone,

I've often heard the term "pride" mentioned as a big factor in why some people do the things they do. For example, a person who is struggling with addictive impulses may refuse to admit they have a problem and want to get help, because they are too proud. Or sometimes we may not want to accept a lower-paying job, because we may feel "We're better than that." However, in some cases, it's important to have pride in moderation, because it tells a lot about the type of character you have.

Yesterday, in the wake of the Blizzard of 2009, I was watching the NFL on FOX, and being that I live in the metropolitan New York area, the local FOX affiliate, which was WNYW/5, was showing the New York Jets hosting the Atlanta Falcons. In a game that meant nothing to the Falcons because they had already been eliminated from playoff contention, the Falcons eked out a win, 10-7, on a last second touchdown. And while the home crowd was groaning, the play-by-play team of Dick Stockton and Charles Davis were talking about how the Falcons would be missing the playoffs, there was a very important goal they were shooting for. In their existence as an NFL franchise, the Falcons have never had back-to-back winning seasons, and that was a goal that would be of great importance. After the game, sideline reporter interviewed Tony Gonzalez, a future Hall of Famer in his own right, and he said (paraphrasing) that "We have a great deal of pride, and we're professionals."

I repeatedly thought about that comment-in a situation like this, it's very easy to fold up the tent and say "We're done. See you all next year, and we'll try again then." But you need to have pride in what you do and who you are, and let others know that. I am proud that I stutter and I feel fortunate that I have a special gift that I can share with others in this world. For those who understand me and the NSA Nation and the special things we bring to this life, if you think your stuttering is a big deal, it will be. When you look down when you speak to others, they'll start to look down too and feel embarrassed. One of the most important lessons that I learned from an NSA conference (among many) is to give a firm handshake and look the other person in the eye when you speak. That exudes confidence and power and the value reaches so far.

We're all works in progress when it comes to accepting who we are. We are our own worst enemies, because no one sees our flaws the way that we do. The NSA Nation allows us to represent ourselves to the fullest extent possible.

As I was watching the end of the game, I saw Arthur Blank, the owner of the team, on the sidelines. At our conference in Atlanta, he was a keynote speaker. Not only does he own the Falcons, but he co-owned The Home Depot and is a millionaire many times over, and is very philanthropic in the Atlanta community. I couldn't help but think back to a quote he made during his speech when he said "There is no finish line." It was on a T-shirt that he wears when he runs marathons. There is always work to be done in our lives, and improving ourselves as human beings and as people who stutter. There are times we will want to stop, and raise the white flag of surrender. But we can't. Because we have pride in the work we do, and will continue to do to spread stuttering awareness everywhere.

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, December 15, 2009

What an ass this person is!!!!

Good evening everyone,

I always look forward to getting The Hockey News in the mail every week. I relish the chance to read the stories and interesting anecdotes to see how I can relate them to stuttering. Those who know me would definitely say I am a huge hockey fan, if not a fanatic. But sometimes you read an article and you have to step back and wonder, "What the !@$!#!@#$! was this person thinking?" As a person who stutters, I am learning (and continue to learn) how to make my words count and exercise my control to not let my stuttering become a flaw for others to exploit, which I could not do for a long time.

There was an article written about the effort to put together the Olympic hockey team from Finland. In 2010, the National Hockey League will shut down to allow their players to represent their native countries in the quest for Olympic gold in Vancouver. If you ever have the chance to hear a former athlete speak about their greatest triumphs, chances are strong that you may hear them reflect on what a special honor it was to represent their country and compete at the highest level. However, there was an anecdote that made me look twice, and realize: If there were ever someone who needed an attitude adjustment, it was this guy I am about to talk about.

Miikka Kiprusoff is the goalie for the Calgary Flames. A good, steady netminder, but nothing approaching superstar status, although he did play in a Stanley Cup Final. He stated he wanted to be the number one choice to represent his country-nothing wrong with that, showing the competitive juices. Then, according to author Edward Fraser, in November, he stated either he'd be labeled the starter-or he'd stay home over the break. There are many descriptions I could use to describe that, and needless to say, the coach of the team, Jari Kurri, didn't take that comment too kindly. "The players don't make the decisions. The coaches do," he said.

The one thing I have tried and consistently stressed about my stuttering is the desire and the requirement to have a good attitude. With that comment, can you blame anyone for saying "I'll take my chances with someone else?"

I tried to visualize this scenario as to how it might have played out in high school or college. I saw myself asking to participate in an event, and here is the response: "Sure, Steven you can play, but you can't stutter." Or something to the effect of, "Yes, you can play, but you can't speak to the referee or anyone else." I can control many things. I can't control if I have a good speech day or a bad one. I can't control the locking of my vocal chords when I am trying to say what I want. I can control my ATTITUDE.

We all make decisions in our life and we must live with the consequences. And for one Miikka Kirpusoff, if he decides not to participate, that is his right. But I guarantee you long after he retires, he will not be remembered for what he did on the ice. He'll be remembered for not wanting to care about others enough. I will never put myself above the NSA Nation or anyone else because I care about others! We who stutter have a very special bond that must never be broken, and that bond is to be celebrated 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.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Saturday nights with the NSA Nation......

Good evening everyone,

The cold winds are upon us, and for many around the world, this is the best time of year. The Christmas lights are up, the menorahs are soon to be lit, and for once, it seems like everyone has a spring in their step, a smile on their face, and maybe a little more patience than they used to. However, that isn't always true, given the way things are in the world-high unemployment, frustrations in finding a job, wondering when the next chapter of our lives will be starting.

On Saturday, Dec. 5, I had the honor of getting together with my peers for an NSA holiday party. The Manhattan (New York County) chapter for the past two years, has hosted a get-together which is open to anyone who stutters, regardless of chapter affiliation. Last year, I made a suggestion that it would be a great idea to make it an inter-chapter gathering, and that was accepted. This year, we invited those from Long Island, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Central Jersey to attend. Unbeknownst at the time, we were about to be greeted by a mixture of snow and slush, but even though the calendar read December, for me it might as well have been a special version of Thanksgiving because I was with those who get me.

There's something special about seeing the smile of a teammate who you don't always get to see that often, the genuineness of a handshake and catching up on old times and seeing what has been going on. Sometimes the news is great, other times not so much. But you still embrace the camaraderie that is there. I met so many new members who were thrilled at the chance to meet others who were walking in the same shoes we walked in, facing the same challenges we do on a daily basis. And over barbecued chicken and chili, we laughed, we chatted, we had become so close in an amazingly short amount of time.

The night we held our party, the NSA chapter in the Bay Area (San Francisco) held their holiday party, which I thought had an excellent title: "Eat, Drink, and Be M-M-Merry." How poetic was it that on both sides of the country, with 3,000 miles separating each other, these two chapters held their own events. Yet all over the U.S., there were many chapters hosting holiday parties and getting together in their own way to showcase the spirit of what the NSA Nation really is.

I can say that I don't always get to the city often. Most of my life is concentrated on Long Island, and I am a suburbanite-every time I exit the Long Island Railroad at Pennsylvania Station and go up the escalator, I am still awestruck at the skyscrapers and wonder how I find myself there. But taking the 10:52 back home, and passing some of the skyline, I have to say when you find yourself alone, when you have the worst speech day possible and nothing just goes according to plan, you know that you aren't. You're a citizen of the NSA Nation. We all are. And that is the best feeling in the world.

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, December 1, 2009

How do you feel about stuttering and dating?

Good evening everyone,

I wanted to use this edition of the blog to discuss an interesting experience I recently had online in a chat room. I am going to be turning 32 next year, and like many of my peers, would like to get into the dating game. Some take the road less traveled, with many bumps along the way, like I have done. Hindsight as they say is always 20/20, but if I knew then what I knew now I probably would have not done half the stupid things in high school and college. I've always been attracted to the Internet when it comes to meeting new people. It's really an oxymoron, but I do much better on the Internet than in real life, one-to-one conversations. Needless to say, you can't hide behind a computer your whole life, but I can admit that the online world of dating can help "level the playing field" when it comes to being a teammate who stutters. Thankfully, the NSA Nation has been a godsend in helping me grow not just socially, but professionally as well.

Recently I was in a "thirties love" chat room on AOL, and chatting with a young woman from the Chicago suburbs. We were discussing the usual things: where we live, what we like to do, and I of course mentioned my incredible love of my life and the greatest passion I have, which is working for the National Stuttering Association. Things were going pretty well and then I heard the dreaded "goodbye" from AOL. It's all right, I told myself, she'll be back in a few minutes. She never did.

I recently signed up for a few months ago and decided to do something bold, something I'd never done before. I mentioned prominently in my profile that the National Stuttering Association is a major driving force in my life. Now of course, I knew the risks I was taking, but I also knew that I had to do the right thing and be honest. Which brings me to this question: Is honesty the best policy?

You have heard me talk about the journey of self-acceptance every teammate who stutters must take within themselves. We all need to accept that we stutter-for some of us, it is a realization that occurs much sooner rather than later. It took me until my late twenties to realize that I stutter, and the choice is mine as to what I can make of it-after all, I can either make it work for me, or against me at the same time. But before I took that journey of self-acceptance, I would accept that I would be single for the rest of my life, and feel it's a death sentence. This world we live in isn't getting any better-the insults are becoming more caustic, the confrontations more violent, but I have seen hope, in the form of my NSA teammates in high school who are becoming more confident socially and growing into leaders in their own right.

Over dinner at the diner last week, I discussed this with a peer of mine, and she gave a very challenging response, which ate at me for a while: "I think what you're doing is courageous, but don't you think you're also throwing yourself on the mercy of the court without being tried?" she inquired. We all have certain qualities we look for in a potential girlfriend/significant other, but do we ever have deal-breakers? Sure. Smoking can be one. Doing drugs? Absolutely. My biggest one though, is a lack of acceptance of the NSA Nation. I could never date, or want to date, someone like that.

The greatest appeal of the NSA conferences is that teammates who do not stutter get just as much out of these seminars. It's not uncommon to see a teammate bring their girlfriend/boyfriend to this event, and they marvel at the life-altering processes that take place here. I know I am very comfortable as a teammate who stutters, and that needs to come through loud and clear. The NSA Nation is where I draw my power from. There may be those who just don't care about stuttering, or don't want to know about it. That's fine if they feel that way. All you've done is given me another reason not to want to get to know you.

I know that stuttering and dating can present a very big challenge. Stuttering affects men more than it does women, but we often wonder who has the greater challenges in the dating game. I have challenges too, of dealing with potential dates who may not understand the impact of a comment they make. I'll never forget one incident in my life that happened a year ago. I was out with a woman and we were having dinner at Houlihan's, and when the server came over to ask me what I wanted to drink, I asked for a cosmopolitan (yes, they really are good LOL) and it came out like "C-c-c-c-c-osmmmmmopolitan." The woman said "Wow, I didn't think that would take you a long time to answer." I got up and promptly walked out of the restaurant, and drove home. The next day I sent her an email explaining to her that because of that comment, I could no longer even speak with her. I was so angry after that, that I refused to even want to date because I was thinking everyone else would be just like that. But it's not true. It can be trying. It can test even the strongest of wills. But I know that in the end, I will find that woman who accepts the NSA Nation and how important it is to me.

We all want to find the "one." Here's to my teammates who refuse to let their stuttering stand in the way of that goal.

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