Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cleveland Rocks!!! Cleveland Rocks! Cleveland Rocks!

Good evening everyone,

I want to begin this latest entry in my blog with an apology. For those around the world who enjoy reading my thoughts and observations about life as a person who stutters, you may have been wondering what has happened to me. These last few weeks have been among the most amazing in my life. I have just returned from the latest National Stuttering Association conference in Cleveland, Ohio, and now I am back into the "real world," although in reality, I never left.

You have all heard me talk about how these conferences are the four days out of the year that I live for. You can't deny that the night before the conference, I had such a feeling of distinct electricity running through my body-it's that same high you get when you want to sleep, but you just can't. The adrenaline is pulsating through your veins and you don't want to drift off to dreamland because you're worried about losing all those pleasant thoughts. Yet my alarm clock went off at 5:30 a.m., and an hour later, I was riding with my dad on the Long Island Expressway toward MacArthur Airport, ready to board a 737 via Southwest Airlines to Hopkins International Airport. Although I live in the suburbs of the city that never sleeps, at the time I was on the road, I was just taking in the scenery-the sunrise coming over the Great South Bay, and the massive parking lot on the interstate beginning to fill up with commuters heading off to work.

The conference has been described by people as a lot of things. I'm often asked how you can explain it and there are some who say it's something you just have to experience for yourself. But I am creative, as are fellow members of the NSA Nation, and some of their feelings are definitely good conversation starters. One of my good friends from Ohio calls it "The world's largest block party." (Touche LOL). I even coined a new phrase: "Four days of sleep deprivation, with some education and kick-ass empowerment thrown in." I like that....I really do.

Although the "National" part of our name implies we are based in America, one of the greatest feelings of pride I have is that we've seen people who live internationally come to visit, and share their wisdom. I live in the suburbs of New York, and one of the things that frustrates me is that you can be a person who lives all your life here and not ever want to see, or meet, other people. New York City is an amazing place...and there's everything you could ever want here. Yet you also don't want to develop a view that the world begins and ends at the George Washington Bridge. Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan (!) were just a few of the international countries represented. I'll never forget going out to dinner with some attendees who were from South Jersey, and a gentleman from Australia joined us. We all hung on every word he said, as he was regaling us with the experiences of the stuttering community overseas.

Of course, the social scene is a big part of the NSA conference. But the workshops play an integral role because they challenge us to do what we once so afraid to-taking a chance on living life and being open to whatever challenges there are. One workshop in particular was hosted by four members of the NSA East Bay chapter in San Francisco, and reading about it just made me think. It was dedicated to the questioning of gender roles and stuttering. Stuttering affects five times more men than women, yet for me, I read that and just stopped. In today's world, old standards are still around. The men are expected to be strong, yet some of us are perceived as being "weak" and "nervous" because we stutter. The truth is, we are all stronger than we know. Sometimes it takes looking deep into yourself to realize that.

I also received the shock of my life at this conference. If you met me in my pre-NSA days I was not a nice person to be around. I was feeling so hateful and upset at the world, and at myself. I couldn't even stand to look at myself anymore because every time I spoke to someone, I would look down for fear that I felt like I was a burden to them having to listen to me. My life has come full circle in so many ways, in other ways it could be better-but we are all works in progress. At the opening ceremony, I was recognized for my contributions by winning the Member of the Year Award. That makes two awards in three years, and that one is very prestigious to me. I was honored to be presented with it by someone who is very special and sits on the Board of Directors.

I know that the journey of self-acceptance is painful, and frightening to take. But after the conference, I visited my grandfather's grave, which I do once a month-I talk to him and let him know how I am doing, even though he may be physically gone, the lessons he taught me are still as vibrant as ever. I swear to you reading that I am going to do everything in my power to help others in their journey. When someone is angry because they can't find a job and they think it is due to their speech, I will listen. When a person feels life isn't worth living because they stutter and they think it's a death sentence, I will share my story with them. I have never been so prouder, or more honored, to be part of this SPECTACULAR community known as the NSA Nation. If you don't want to join, when will you? Be part of something that will change your life forever. I personally guarantee it.

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