Sunday, January 31, 2010

Everything I Learned I Learned....From The Restaurant Business

Good afternoon everyone,

There's a very famous piece of written composition called "Everything I Learned, I Learned In Kindergarten." I thought I'd use that as the basis for this posting, but slightly tweaked. I didn't learn everything in kindergarten, and I probably won't learn everything until I leave this earth-and by then, there will be much more still to observe. But for me, everything I have learned about stuttering and my life I actually learned from....the hospitality business.

At different points in my life, I have worked in the catering/restaurant business. It's no secret that there are very few "lifers" in that business, simply because a lack of patience and frustration will doom you if you don't have the necessary "people gene." Either one has it, or they don't. I've worked at opposite ends of the spectrum: from luxury catering at a prestigious multi-purpose hall to working behind the counter preparing food. And I like to think there are many parallels between stuttering and this field, as I am sure there are many others. On the refrigerator where I currently work, there was a letter from an owner of another franchise store (same type as I work at) and one day on my down time, I read it. If you take the time to analyze it, there are many connections to draw. Here's but a few things he said, and how I feel about it:

1. "It's not about you, it's about the customer."-Well, it's not about me in any way at all. It's about the National Stuttering Association and contributing in any way I can to make it better. When you work in the restaurant field, you are the ambassador and representative for that place where customers choose to eat. A customer can spend money anywhere they want to-and in this economy, it's very important to choose a place where they feel acknowledged. When I contribute to the NSA in many forms, I want others to know that I represent them and I take equal ownership and treat it as if it were my own, because it is. I used to work at the Huntington Townhouse as a lobby host, assisting the maitre d's whenever I was needed to do so, and making sure everyone left with a great impression of Long Island. Yes, we had many visitors who'd never been to the NYC area and didn't know anything about it. I know that as a single person I can have a big say as to how their time goes. When you know you can make a difference, it's a special feeling. Sure, it was nice to get to wear a tuxedo to work LOL, but can represent yourself to the fullest. If you show stuttering never stops you in any way, others will agree with you and go along happily.

2. "If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours."-For the longest time I would never even want to smile because I felt so ashamed and embarrassed by my stutter. Even the simplest tasks I would do just featured a sarcastic edge whenever I spoke. You have a choice: you can smile and accept the fact that you stutter and it's one part of your life, and be confident about it, or you can be angry and complain about it. I have dealt with customers who could care less about what they are doing at that moment, but I like to smile and do it when I can. There is nothing to apologize for when it comes to stuttering. I stutter, and I smile....why don't 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.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The theme is consistency.....

Good evening everyone,

As I am writing this edition of my blog, I am trying to think back to the time when I was home watching the clock strike twelve and welcome in the year 2010. This was the year......for many things. This was the year I'd fall in love. It was going to be the year that I'd return to working out and feeling good about myself. And then I began to wonder how long it would take to make those goals disappear. I don't think those goals are unrealistic, but I began to feel my brain bubbling and coming up with a new goal. I want to be everything I do.

Like many people who stutter, high school and college and my years in my twenties were nothing short of hell. The nights I cried, the long walks home by myself, finding myself absorbed in loneliness and the denial of my rights to be heard, to be wanted. Although I had found some academic success in the classroom, those moments were fleeting and confined to one or two classes at best. And when my parents went to the teacher conferences, the one word heard over and over was "consistent." Some of the general comments that I'd heard were "Steven has untapped potential but he's so enigmatic. Imagine what he could be if he was consistent."

One of the challenges I face as a person who stutters, among many, is the ability to be consistent. Sure, one way to look at it is that I stutter consistently. Yet when I go to speech therapy, I do really well in the confines of the office with my speech pathologist, and I have again those fleeting moments when I can hold a conversation with minimal blocking. But more often than most, once I go out of those doors back home, it seems like I begin stuttering more severely than when I entered the office in the first place. But this to me is a challenge that I relish. For the longest time, I got really good at running away. But sooner or later, you will get tired of doing it. We can't run forever.

You can be consistent with many other things that revolve around stuttering. I made a pledge to myself to be consistent in my desire to educate and support others and myself. I said I wanted to be consistent in speaking my mind at all times and refusing to be reserved. It may be hard to believe, but in my pre-NSA days, I would agree that I had to be seen and not heard. (See me at an NSA conference and you'll know why I say that). Now, I start conversations anywhere, anytime. I've been on the subway platforms in New York City and chatted with random people about everything from the weather to politics. Not only is it great practice, but it's another step forward for being consistent in my life-to represent myself as a person who stutters to the best extent possible.

On the topic of consistency, I happened to read a brief article in The Hockey News that got my attention and in a way created the topic. For those who have not heard of Daniel Alfredsson, he is the captain and top winger for the Ottawa Senators. I love hockey and one of the reasons I frequently reference it is because the lessons that we can learn are innumerable. I often find myself drawn to watching players who maybe aren't heralded as much, but get the most out of their abilities and help in other ways that the scoreboard never reflects. He will more than likely break the 1,000-point level and earn induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, but he never had the dynamic pizzazz that superstar players do. He was even picked in the sixth round as an afterthought, and won Olympic gold.

If you're wondering why I mention him, in the article it talked about his career. His team played in the Stanley Cup Final in 2006-07, but lost to the Anaheim Ducks. That may have been his one chance at winning a championship, since the team is struggling and he will finish his career quite possibly on a bad team. (The owner, Eugene Melnyk, vowed he'd be a "Senator for Life." If he never wins a title, Alfredsson had an interesting take on it: "I'm proud of my consistency," he said.

You can be consistent as a person who stutters. Be consistent in your actions. Be consistent in your relationships with others, even if they do not stutter. Be consistent in everything you do...and maybe you too will see that it is something to be proud of.

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, January 15, 2010

And now, a word from Hilary Duff...and the connection with stuttering

Good evening everyone,

"In a moment, everything can change."

That's the opening line to the song "Fly" by Hilary Duff. As I was driving in to work, I was flipping the radio dial and trying to settle on a preset, and in the process came across 1010WINS, which is one of the biggest all-news radio stations in the country. At the top of the hour, they announced that today was the one year anniversary of the "Miracle on the Hudson," the moniker given to the emergency landing of a USAirways jet into the New York City harbor and as a result, created a truly transcendent bond with passengers, but also made Chesley Sullenberger III an instant household name, and a real American hero. I can still recall the images of the plane in the waters, and the courage of those who responded and demonstrated what this country is made of.

As a person who stutters, I have experienced many of those moments. There are ones on a grand scale, like the first National Stuttering Association conference I attended, or a smaller moment, when I decided one day I would no longer use the automated box office in the local multiplex lobby and I knew I was going to say what I want, regardless of how long it took. Yet for those who stutter, the greatest question is to how to react when something alters your life and makes you question what you believe.

I remember when I was very young (probably around three years old) going to an audiologist's office and being placed in this booth with some really cool-looking equipment. As an icebreaker for when I speak to SLP students, I like to say for all intents and purposes that it might as well have been a rocket ship and the feedback devices were really a road map for outer space. After the requisite tests were done, and my parents found out that I stuttered, I don't think they had any idea what to feel. In essence, they had a moment that changed their lives forever. Little did I know that my world was about to be shattered, rocked, and smashed many times over-only to resurrect myself stronger and more resilient than ever.

I suppose people have different ways of dealing with these kinds of moments. Some turn to drugs and alcohol, others deny what is going on. For the longest time, I too was in denial that I stuttered. I experienced pain and alienation the likes of which no one should need face alone. But in these moments, we really find out what we're made of, and how far we can go in this life. I will never forget the first time I spoke at a college, and I was deathly afraid of how my words would come out. Yet, that evening I flew as high as I ever could. It was such a spiritual high, so intoxicating.

Throughout these moments, we should not forget the lessons that are taught. Even though I may not be a professional teacher, in many ways I am a dual "teacher" and "student" when it comes to my speech. Every day is something I learn. You too will learn a great deal as you continue this journey on stuttering.

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, January 7, 2010

What did Derek Jeter teach me about stuttering?

Good evening everyone,

As the calendar turns the pages to 2010, I realize that some things never get old. Maybe it's the feeling of putting on that favorite sweatshirt you have, the atmosphere you experience when you walk into a neighborhood restaurant and the host greets you like the regular you are, or getting together with your friends for to watch a game. We always identify cities by their sports teams and their characteristics. For example, Pittsburgh will always be Steeler Nation and the "We Are Family" Pittsburgh Pirates. Montreal will always be the cathedral of hockey, although some Maple Leafs fan may disagree. But we also take great pride in studying our athletes and relating to them, and applying the lessons they teach us everyday. In many cases, it's not just sportsmanship. It's about how to be as a person.

Living in the New York area as I do, I have always been a Yankees fan. And although I take it for granted that I can spend summer nights watching baseball being played in the boogie-down Bronx, I have also had the opportunity to watch one of the most influential athletes to every play in this city. Of course, I'm talking about one Derek Jeter, who is the captain of the New York Yankees, and a four-time World Series champion at that. New York has had many great sports teams and legends, but few have ever captured the heart of the city like he did. I can count on one hand the number of players who have.

It goes without saying that there is always intense scrutiny playing in a scene like New York. But regardless, the lessons he has taught me and many other fans can apply to us, as people who stutter in so many ways. I wanted to use this blog and share those insights, to see how we can apply them:

1. Respect-not just for others, but for ourselves. As a person who stutters, for the longest time growing up I never felt like I had the right to basic respect. If someone came up to me and said hello, as much as I wanted to respond in kind, I felt that I had no right to do so and to even attempt it would be futile. I think because of my stuttering, I have become more compassionate and giving in my life as a result. When you experience so much scorn and hurt, it's a natural response to say "I never cared about anyone, so I want to turn my back on the world." Sure, the world can be rough. But we can deal with it in a number of ways. If you respect yourself, and others, you know that you can find a positive, in the most trying of situations. When Joe Torre was managing the Yankees, the captain would always call him "Mr. T." And here's the best example of respect: We all know there's a red-hot rivalry between the Yankees and the Red Sox. If you asked players on the Red Sox who they admire and respect the most, even if they can't stand the team he plays for, it's Derek Jeter. If that doesn't show respect, then what does?

2. Be willing to hustle and do what needs to be done: There is no room for complacency in this world. When it comes to our stuttering, it is only controlled by one person, and that's ourselves. We can't blame our parents or anyone else. If you do not go to speech therapy, then there are other confidence-boosting exercises that you can do with regards to your speech. If you do go to speech therapy, understand that when you work with your SLP, once you step out of that office, it's up to you to apply it. Apply what you learn every chance you get.

3. Accept the responsibility you have: As some of you know, I hold a leadership position with the National Stuttering Association. In many ways, this was the greatest thing that ever could happen to me. There are some people who don't want to lead, and that's their right if they wish to do so. But when you are a leader, you are in the spotlight and what you say and do will be heavily watched. When you study how Derek Jeter meets the media after every game, he never says anything defamatory. He's always cordial, accommodating, and understands the responsibilities he has placed before him. I have a responsibility to all those people who stutter around the world. We all owe it to each other to be the best people we possibly can, and to represent stuttering in a positive light!

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, January 1, 2010

Goodbye this decade....the decade of CHOICE!

Good evening everyone,

Last night marked different things for many people. It may have been the biggest party night of the year where you dress to the nines and celebrate, a time to look forward to the promises of a forthcoming year, or a time to reflect on the challenges and think about what we can do to make ourselves a stronger person. For me, it was definitely the last one-even though I'll be 32 this year and I love a good time as much as anyone, there can be no denying that 2009 was a year of emotions. The world met a woman named Stefani Joanne Angelia Germanotta who we went "Gaga" over. We stood by and watched corporate greed almost bring this country to its knees, one man play Wall Street, yet we also saw a barrier come down loud and clear when this country voted a senator from Illinois president, and sent the message that skin color does not matter and anything is possible if the determination is there.

Despite it being a raw and rainy evening, I drove down to Jones Beach, which is a favorite spot of mine to go biking. It also serves as a special comfort to me, a place where I can go when I feel I need to contemplate situations in my life. It felt like a ghost town driving down the Wantagh Parkway, as the rain pelted my windshield like a gentle knock on my door. And as I saw the tower in the distance, I pulled into the parking lot and just reflected. It was a year that was passing, yes, but also a decade. And what ultimately did that mean?

Throughout our history, each decade has been marked by iconic memories forever frozen in time. We had the "Roaring Twenties," the 1970s were the "Disco Era" and it belonged to a little-known actor named John Travolta and a band consisting of the Brothers Gibb, the eighties were about a girl from Michigan who asked her father not to preach and a member of the Jackson Five who made wearing a single white glove very popular. And there's the "00s," if you want to call it that, which will be marked by....what, exactly?

I don't know what others will think about this decade, but I can say unequivocally that for me, it will be marked by five days that forever changed the way I look at my life. This decade is marked by faith, hope, and promise. However, if I had to choose one word to symbolize what this decade means to me, it's a very simple word, but one that has so much power: "Choice."

You see, I say that because I made a CHOICE to fly out to Long Beach, despite my parents trying to talk me out of it. I CHOSE to accept and confront my stuttering, and examine why I lived my life as stuttering thought I should live it, not how I wanted to. I CHOSE to make my stuttering my greatest strength and influence of power.

When I was very young, I thought how cool it would be to grow into an adult, and be able to make my own decisions. In the eyes of the law, you are considered a minor until eighteen. Yet it is always frightening to make our own decisions, because the ultimate responsibility lies with us. But it was this decade that I like to think I became a man, who finally understood that stuttering never had to prevent me from living my life the way I had hoped. Yes, I know I will have many more bad speech days. And maybe others who do not understand stuttering will try to finish my sentences for me. But I am not going to let them do that. I CHOSE to take a chance in my life and join the National Stuttering Association. It's the greatest love of my life, and she contines to show me that life is ready to be lived.

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