Thursday, May 27, 2010

A special rite of passage, indeed!

Good evening everyone,

We're about to come upon Memorial Day Weekend 2010. No matter what you think of this as, whether it's the official kick-off to summer, or another reason to introduce yourself to the sun's rays and the local beach near you, it's an undeniable feeling that yes, something special is in the air...and this feeling never gets old.

Last night, as I was watching the 10 O'Clock News on New York's FOX affiliate (WNYW/5), the first topic of discussion on the news was the fact that the brand new Meadowlands Stadium located in the suburban swamplands of New Jersey (more specifically, East Rutherford approximately seven miles west of New York City) was being christened by the local band that has established themselves as real pride for local residents everywhere, Bon Jovi. 90,000 fans came out for the celebration, and I couldn't help but listen intently to fans being interviewed. "I grew up with Bon Jovi to get me through law school, and now he's helping me close it," said one woman. Another man who brought his whole family said how his love of "Living On A Prayer" had been passed down to his sons and daughter.

As I was thinking about this, I couldn't help but focus my sights on another feeling that no matter how hard one can describe it, it's unforgettable. That, of course, is the National Stuttering Association's annual conference. In a little less than one month, myself and 700 people who stutter will meet for four days to share wisdom about stuttering...that goes without saying, but when you really get down to it, it's about life. It's about celebrating our great spirit and knowing we are capable of anything we want to do.

Like a rite of passage, the NSA conference has also become for me a tradition and something that demands required attendance. I don't take a lot of vacations, but for me, this trumps everything else. I don't attend family events because in my eyes, I will always be persona non gratis because of my speech-and the fact that my parents will continue to feel ashamed of it. When I see a family I know, we spend several minutes sharing our memories of previous conferences, and the triumphs and tragedies we all share.

Yet it's the little moments that carry the most impact. I can vividly recall people just standing up and saying "My name is ___________" and even if that's all they can, those four words carry such great weight because it is the start of the rest of their lives. We use the term "first-timers" to describe those who have just found out about the conference, and by the closing banquet, they know they are coming back for the next year. We'll all be together to stand with those who have been teased and alienated. And they'll start the transformation process into a special human being.

My countdown started as soon as I got off the plane from Arizona at MacArthur Airport. In a few weeks, I'll be boarding another one to Ohio. Maybe I'll see you there. Or better yet, at a future conference someday.

Number five (Long Beach, Calif., Atlanta, Parsippany, N.J., Scottsdale, Ariz., and now Cleveland) will be just as special for me. May it be for you 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.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

There is no day but make it happen!

Good afternoon everyone,

One of the greatest pleasures I have had the chance to experience is special times when I can get together with my NSA colleagues outside of our annual conferences. I used to think of my fellow NSA members as "teammates," but in many ways, we are more than that. We're teachers, advocates, and friends with unbreakable bonds that no one else can even begin to understand.

This past Saturday, I had a chance to get together with one of my friends from the conference. In all honesty, I didn't even know he was going to be in my "neck of the woods," as the proverbial expression goes. I firmly believe that when the opportunity presents itself, you need to make an effort to reach out and offer to get together-even if it's for dinner or just having drinks at the local bar. My friend was in town for a month to attend an intensive speech therapy program, and it was only via his Facebook page that I found out. I emailed him, and we decided to hang out in New York City. Any time I go into the city, it's a special thing for me. I am a typical suburbanite-whenever someone asks me where I am from, I always say "Long Island" rather than New York. Although sometimes I take it for granted that I can easily have access to the amenities that this city offers me, I'm not usually much for being there. I love the beaches and the much slower pace of life, although when I am in the city, it's usually a good bet you'll find me behind the microphone at a karaoke bar.

I met my friend and our first stop was riding the D line up to the Yankee Stadium/161st Street/River Avenue stop, so we could walk around the stadium. And as we were doing so on what was a glorious day, the topic of conversation turned to one of the themes that usually rears its head throughout our lives, and especially at the conference. And that's the one about taking chances. Matt was telling me how he just completed his Associate's Degree and was deciding on whether or not to go for his Bachelor's degree, or take the entrance exam to be a New York City Police Officer. We happened to be walking past Mullally Park right by the Stadium, approaching the George Washington Bridge exit, and I encouraged him to go for it-especially since the city is always recruiting for police officers. But Matt spoke about how he was worried how his speech might come into play-because it's one thing to be comfortable around another person who stutters, and it's totally different when you need to be in the public eye.

It is no secret that I take so much pride in knowing so many members of the NSA Nation, who have pursued (and are pursuing) their goals in spite of their concerns they may have. Whether it's a teacher or a speech pathologist. One of the articles in our "Letting GO" newsletter was written by a mother of our members who expressed her concerns when her daughter wanted to become a speech pathologist and she had to say her name to other graduate students.

After we hit the Stadium, we did some subway-hopping and walked over the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to the DUMBO (Down Underneath the Manhattan Bridge) with a truly priceless view of the skyline and Statue of Liberty. But another attribute of the National Stuttering Association is that no one cares what your background is or what personal beliefs you have-we all come from various regions-the Northeast, the Florida beaches (like Matt), the Pacific Northwest, and so on. On the bridge, there was a great collection of residents and visitors just being. Just talking, and no one cared about their personal issues.

As we were walking back to the Manhattan side, I couldn't help but pause to see where the Twin Towers once stood. The only thing that was going through my mind was the song "No Day But Today," from the musical "Rent." We all have so much to accomplish, so much to dream, and time to make it happen. Matt pledged to me he will strongly consider taking the exam. No matter what he decides, just the fact that two members of the NSA Nation were able to get together made it a pretty good weekend....don't you think?

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, May 8, 2010

Hello everyone,

Throughout my life, I have often questioned many times why life takes the twists and turns it does. We all have struggled at times with many challenges that life has thrown at us: a new chapter starts and we are unsure what to do about it. A death in our family shatters our normalcy and things never stay the same again. Yet, as the saying goes, "The more things change, the more things stay the same." And what stays the same to me, as a member of the National Stuttering Association, is the unbreakable spirit that a group of collective individuals can agree to unite for something bigger than themselves, and learn about this unique world we live in.

For many travelers around the world, the shattering took place at our local airports. With a volcanic eruption spreading ash over Europe, there was a standstill of shock and then the craziness started. There was nowhere to go, very few people to talk to-or to care about their problems. I was reading the New York Post a few days ago at a diner counter and was shaking my head at some of the responses from those stranded when a reporter asked them how they were managing. One person said (paraphrasing) "We don't deserve to be treated like animals." Another one was angry that in search of a temporary room and shower, some hotels raised the prices every day in hopes one's will would be broken and they'd give in. Yet there are some who despite the most trying of circumstances, make it through the day with a smile and their courage. One family, who seemed amused by the fact that some passengers were photographing them like a paparazzi would celebrities, decided turnabout was fair play and thus photographed those who were photographing them. Some passengers, according to the Post, decided to engage a take-off of "Twenty Questions" in a parlor game supposedly called "I'm Not Beethoven." And one young girl was making some good friends with a French compatriot, even though she didn't know a lick about the language. It brought a smile to my face, knowing that just maybe the human spirit isn't dead as it seems like sometimes it can be.

But as a person who stutters (or even if you support others who do), we have more of those moments, and although we want to give up and declare our lives over, it is unfathomable. When I speak at colleges about the NSA Nation and the transforming effects it has, the one thing I stress is that we all live through each other. We laugh together, and we celebrate all that our speech is and can be. We also cry and empathize when someone's ordeal threatens to bring down all they worked for.One of my colleagues at the NSA who has contributed her blood, sweat, and tears as we all have, was recently given some devastating news. She is a very proud mom of two daughters, one who is an SLP and the other who will be a psychologist and serves in a leadership capacity in my organization. She is a big proponent of education, and found out that after twenty-something years, she was being let go because of budgetary issues in California. My heart dropped after I read that, and as someone who strongly believes that the NSA Nation takes care of its own, I asked her to call me, and we spoke for an hour. Despite this crippling news, she maintained her sunny outlook. Many of us wear their hearts on their sleeve (I do), and when we receive bad news, we tend to immediately feel those clenches of negativity permeate our mind. We begin to ask "Why me? Why couldn't this happen to someone else?" "I don't deserve this." We stew, we complain, we feel the color in our world dying. Yet she, not one time, did any of that. She is truly someone I admire, and the NSA Nation is full of members who feel the same way she does. It really is about attitude!

Maybe I will never find out why life is the way it is. But you know what I have found out? That life is meant to be lived with a smile on your face, and being comfortable with who you are is vital. Adversity really does build character-and I've got a great deal of it. Why don't you start building yours today?My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.