Friday, February 26, 2010

What have you been listening to?

Good evening everyone,

Throughout the course of my life I have taught many lessons about stuttering to the outside world, and received them as well. We have many gifts as human beings and no doubt we determine whether those gifts benefit us or are detrimental to the way we live our life. I'd like to use this edition of the blog to talk about one of those special gifts which we have but sometimes do not use the right way. That is, the gift to hear.

We can hear many different types of things. Yet when I say the gift to hear, I do not mean listening to the local radio station when your favorite song comes on. Nor do I mean listening to the local news talk about what depressing events are going on in the world today. I speak of hearing positive things in an age where everything seems to be overwhelmingly negative.

As a person who stutters, I have heard all kinds of taunts thrown my way. Who can forget hearing these comments: "Come on, Porky!" "Spit it out." "I don't have time to wait," or anything along these lines. I began to see myself as living these comments every day: "Freak." "Loser." "Outcast." I almost started to believe that these were absolutely true since I was surrounded by them every day in high school and even throughout college. I seriously didn't know at the time that I had the power within me to tune them out.....but was so afraid to even discover it. I began to feel burning anger which eventually took on a "It's me against the world" mentality, which in respect was probably the worst attitude I ever could have had. There's a saying that actions speak louder than words. With all due respect to the person who coined that phrase, I strongly disagree. Words hurt people. They can do serious damage to our psyche and irreparably harm us.

It's so hard to live our lives today without one person saying another thing about someone else. We all have opinions, and it's so easy to say them with disregard for the consequences. But we have the power to ignore them. We have the ability to surround ourselves with people who care, who will support our goals and encourage us to live the lives we want. In the latest edition of The Hockey News, there were two great quotes that immediately jumped out at me that bear repeating. Joe Thornton, the center for the San Jose Sharks, made a comment about the fans and critics who constantly ridicule him as "No-Show Joe" for his team's lack of playoff success: "If you let that stuff get to you, it would kill you. It would just kill you."

One of the biggest themes with the National Stuttering Association, the greatest love of my life, is acceptance. And the fact of recognizing that you are a person who stutters, and that is OK. It need not define you in any way. Once you accept that fact that you stutter, as the adage goes, "The truth will set you free." All the doors open up, all that collective weight of fear, shame, and guilt vanishes. For me, I have felt like I have become so desensitized to these comments that once ripped at my core, that I have no comment on it. I just continue living my life, and what a great feeling that really is!

The coach of the San Jose Sharks, Todd McLellan, also lent some very important insight: "I believe there's a danger in always hearing and believing." This quote was in reference to the team's acquisition of Dany Heatley, a player who I discussed previously on the blog, for his reputation as a notoriously bad teammate. There IS that danger of hearing comments that put you down and if you allow yourself to believe them, your stuttering will continue to wreck havoc on your life.

All it takes is an easy adjustment-and it starts with what you choose to listen to.

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, February 19, 2010

Who is your Mrs. Vanderpool?

Good evening everyone,

I wanted to use this edition of my blog to reflect about one of the most underrated occupations in the world, and that is teaching. I firmly believe that we, as people who stutter, are teachers in our own right, educators of all things stuttering and our purpose is to empower, educate, and confront negative stereotypes where they exist. This week I was surfing the Internet and found out that one of my former high school teachers, Mrs. Vanderpool, passed away after a long battle with cancer. Although I didn't think much of it at the time because I didn't have classes with her, I knew of her reputation and what a true asset to the community she was. Later that night, I went to my closet, took out my high school yearbook, and started thinking about her and the legacy she left.

I never really had the best of luck with teachers. Unfortunately when you are in high school (and for some part, college) you really do not have the luxury of picking and choosing your teachers. I struggled mightily in high school and could never forget one teacher, Mrs. Connolly, who would often refuse to let me volunteer in class, and whenever I tried to, I could never forget the words she uttered: "I really have to do this lesson plan, and I don't have time." It wasn't until college, in one of my later semesters which turned out to be the darkest hour in my life, that a professor reached out to me and convinced me that I had a gift to express myself through writing, and that was to be nurtured in every possible way. I still think about her from time to time, and mention her quite prominently whenever I speak to college students-it is very possible to make a difference, and that professor was proof of it.

The high school I went to was really close-knit, and many of the teachers often still know about the older students they used to work with. There are probably two of them who stand out above all else, and I only knew them via reputation. The first one, Mr. Veneziano, was a jolly man who came in every day with a smile and a dedicated work ethic. He was primarily responsible for the creation of the yearbook, and administrative work with our sports teams. Whenever the basketball teams played, he always served as the public address announcer, and I can still hear his booming voice reciting the ground rules for the audience. Whenever he'd walk through the hall, it wasn't uncommon to hear "Hey, Mr. V! Paizano!" as a greeting. Unfortunately, he passed away of a heart attack a few years ago, but his love for the students was a constant. In his memory, the school renamed the gymnasium "The V," as it was truly a home away from home.

From what I heard about Mrs. Vanderpool, she was heavily involved in "SING." This was a unique competition known only to my high school. Each class would put on a musical skit, that would last about one hour, very lavish, and be judged against the other...and at the end, everyone would celebrate together. She was also a speaker at commencement exercises, and a visible presence at the senior was almost like a rite of passage that students wanted to take pictures with her. She was tough.....but fair. I do know she had a daughter, and while some might have felt "That poor girl, she'll never have a life of her own because her mom will watch her," I took the opposite view-she was very lucky to learn about her wisdom and the lessons she offered.

As news of her passing spread, Facebook had a group started by students in her memory. And within two hours, it was flooded with responses...memories from younger and older students. One classmate of mine said "When I turned 18, I cut her class to go snowboarding. When I saw her the next day, I just said I needed a break for one day, and she said, "I understand." Another woman wrote, "It was because of you I went into teaching."

In this day and age, being a teacher can be a hazardous occupation. And I don't mean only about the school violence and peer pressure. It takes a lot to deal with parents who may not understand why he/she feels the way she does. But for that one teacher who saw the potential I had, and encouraged, not discouraged me, I will be eternally grateful. In many ways, through my work with the National Stuttering Association, I'm passing on the same lessons she taught me.

When I was driving home this week, it was about 5:20, which is about the usual time the sun starts to go down. But maybe this was something I couldn't explain, but as I entered my hometown, the sun stayed out a little while longer. Maybe it was just a way of Mrs. Vanderpool saying that even though she has left us, her sunny disposition never will. Who is your Mrs. Vanderpool, the one teacher who believed you had more to offer this world and thought your stuttering never mattered?

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, February 16, 2010

Can we have expectations? What happens when they don't materialize?

Good evening everyone,

Part of being a person who stutters means having to accept many different things. Not only adjusting to various social situations on a daily basis, but also accepting that even the basic tasks will have pressure in intense forms, some more than others. It can be saying "good morning" or even walking up to an information counter asking for the arrival time of the next train. And then, there's the pressure of setting expectations. Are we allowed to set expectations for ourselves? What happens when we don't meet them?

This is a very exciting time for me as a hockey fan because of the Olympic Games being held north of the border. Of course I root for everyone to achieve success, but I have a very keen eye on the ice hockey scene, and not because I am a passionate fan. The host city of Vancouver will play out a very special competition-because the Canadian team is expected to win gold. All the factors are aligned for them: a team loaded on offense and defense, the home crowd and the spirit that hockey is Canada's game by divine birthright and anything less than a gold medal will be seen as a complete and utter failure, that will have major ramifications. As Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby said in an interview with The Sporting News, "Everyone expects to win, so that's pretty much it. That's the way it is."

Throughout the course of my life, I never really had expectations. Or wanted them, for that matter. When you're a teenager navigating the turbulence of adolescence, you really could care less about what's going on in the world outside of your own. It's all about school, crushes, your first job, and sleep...a lot of sleep. It wasn't until I joined the National Stuttering Association that I learned that I am capable of setting expectations for myself. But more importantly, I learned how to deal with them in a positive manner when things didn't work out.

One of the biggest challenges for us is job interviews. In this economy, getting one is a nerve-wracking task, but actually going on enough to cause beads of sweat to come pouring down on even the most confident of people. I've been in so many situations where I told myself, "This is an occasion where I have to be fluent. I NEED to be fluent. My life could be riding on this one moment." Then, I'd open my mouth, the crushing of my vocal chords would start to begin, and the locking would freeze like a deer in the headlights. I'd have one hour to try and force out as many words as I can. And a few days later, I'd get the dreaded form letter in the mail, and be like, "Damn it! The one time I need to be fluent I can't!" and as a result, I'd carry that feeling of misery for an extended period of time.

However, to be 100 percent fluent all the time is setting an unrealistic expectation. No one can ask that, and to do so is asking the impossible. However, there's nothing wrong with having reasonable expectations: "Today I will try to be fluent, and if it happens, it happens. And if I am not, that's OK." It will not be the end of the world if you There are members of the National Stuttering Association who have set great examples which I follow every day. I expect to conduct myself as a representative of the organization with integrity. I expect to meet new people and show them great levels of respect, for together we live our hopes and dreams through each other.

Although many writers and hockey fans are saying that it will be the end of the world if Canada doesn't win the gold medal, I highly doubt that will be the case. It's great to have expectations, and to set the bar high as a motivating tool. But regardless of what happens, I am sure class and respect will be on full display at all times. At the National Stuttering Association, class and respect are evident everyday. Respect yourself. But most importantly, respect each other. Your stutter can be your greatest asset!

My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard. I also want to share a special note: If you want to give your stuttering a supercharged jolt and see that your speech doesn't have to hold you hostage, come to our annual conference in July. You'll see 600+ people who stutter shatter every myth and make you realize everything is possible. For more information, check out!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Just do it anyway!

Good evening everyone,

"You can spend your whole life building something from nothing, one storm can come and blow it all anyway, build it anyway. You can chase a dream that seems so far out of reach and you know it might not come your way, dream it anyway."

Those are the lyrics to "Anyway" by Martina McBride. One of the most interesting things about my life has been my introduction and following of country music. Although I live in the New York metropolitan area, unfortunately one of the drawbacks is that country isn't exactly popular here, even though it's starting to change with such events like Garth Brooks playing Central Park and Taylor Swift having sellout shows everywhere. But the main reason why I really like country music is because there is so much to learn about stuttering. Not every song is all about a lost love, but about challenges we face every day.

The song "Anyway," in my eyes, talks about the courage and resiliency we need to go forward, even in the aftermaths of some occurrences that can force us to reexamine everything we believed. If we focus on the lyrics "You can chase a dream that seems so far out of reach and you know it might not come your way, dream it anyway," what does it really mean? Well, to me, the dream that at one time was so far out of reach was reaching the ultimate goal of self-acceptance when it comes to my stuttering. Sometimes we're so afraid to even dream, because we know somewhere there will be a person who takes great pride in shattering those dreams-maybe they never had that ability, so they want to ruin it for others who want to do so.

Last night, I was talking to one of my NSA colleagues and she is similar to me in the regard that she's looking for work and trying to get her life started, as I am too. She is really excited about cosmetics, and wanted to pursue training to be an aesthtician. I encouraged her to go for this, and she admitted she really wanted to do so, but that money was a big issue. I will be 32 in April, and one of the biggest lessons that I have learned from the National Stuttering Association and listening to country music is that it's about PASSION. It's about wanting something badly enough that when you put your heart and soul into it, whatever the results will be, you can look back and say "I did. I dreamed. I tried." No one needs to be told the economy is in dire straits and finances play a big role in what we say and do. I understand that. I also understand that as people who stutter, we have one life, and it's up to us to make it special. I want to go through life saying and speaking with fire, with passion. I want to use my stuttering, my gift, to help others and achieve their goals.

So when it comes to your life, build it anyway. Dream it anyway. Do it anyway. My mom actually mentioned a pretty interesting anecdote about passion though, which I want to share with you. In the late eighties (or maybe early 1990s), my parents went to see Michael Bolton play in concert at Westbury Music Fair-it's a venue slated for mostly recent acts, who were once popular but for whatever reason don't draw as well now as they did then. The opening act for Michael Bolton was a country singer who was looking to make his mark on the world. He was well received, and while some in the audience could care less who he was, he sang with passion on every note, every line. And that little-known singer turned out to be one of the biggest names in country music-he made "Friends In Low Plces" a household song, and put his passion into showcasing some of the most electrifying concerts on this earth.

Build your it anyway.

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