Saturday, June 26, 2010

Et tu, Brute? The most unkindest cut of all....

Good afternoon everyone,

I thought I'd start this entry of the blog with one of the famous lines from William Shakespeare. The phrase "Et tu, Brute," is literally translated as "You too, Brutus!" and refers to the moment when Julius Caesar is stabbed by his best friend and compatriot, Brutus. I have to admit I had one of those moments yesterday. And even though it came from the mouth of my parents, it doesn't make it any easier. In fact, it just adds more concrete evidence that they don't understand stuttering, and probably never will.

As those who read my blog know, I am aggressively looking for full-time work. I keep myself focused on my job search while I work part-time. Recently, I was discussing the latest developments with my mom and dad, and I informed them that I had decided to apply for an opening as a screener with the Transportation Security Administration, at LaGuardia Airport in Queens County, which is about 45 minutes west from where I live. Their response was shocking, and quite possibly the worst thing any parent can say: "That's a good job for you! You wouldn't have to talk a lot." I was absolutely infuriated by this comment.

I want to say for the record that in no way I have ever let my stuttering stand in the way of applying for a job. At the National Stuttering Association conferences, there are many workshops that are dedicated to networking and helping attendees establish themselves in a career. One of the most frequently asked questions is something like this: "How can I apply for a job when one of the requirements is good communication skills?" Well, early on in my life, I worked in journalism. There may be some people who might have thought I was a glutton for punishment-since there was talking every day. I even had to ring doorbells of perfect strangers and go up to people on the street and talk to them. I felt like I was waiting for the inevitable shoe to drop: the snickers, the comments, the blank stares as I was fumbling for the right words.

One of the hardest lessons I have had to learn is that parents often feel the best way to talk about something is to avoid it. You see this all the time with touchy issues: drugs, sex, and so on. I just had a chance to see this year's conference program for the NSA, and there are a few seminars presented by a parent and their child who stutters. How truly awesome that is! Not just for the fact that it brings the adult and child together, but it shows there is hope that you can talk about stuttering with your family. One part of me does wish that my parents could attend a conference and see what a truly special event this is. Then again, I see myself playing the devil's advocate. If they really don't even care about your speech, then why would you want them there in the first place?

In today's world, we shake our head when we see the way things are headed. We can't choose who our parents are. We can't try to change someone who is set in their ways. But we can make peace with the fact that we are special, and together with our gifts we can improve our lives, day by day. After my parents made that comment to me, I went into my room and read my conference programs back-to-back, looking at my Volunteer of the Year award from 2008. And I'm reminded that I am somebody who has a lot to offer. You have something to share with this world. I want you to promise me you will.

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, June 14, 2010

And then what are you prepared to do?

Good evening everyone,

In the1960s, the phrase "The times, they are a-changing" was aptly used to describe a truly unique time in the growth of our country. The decade became associated with among other things, sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, the sexual revolution, and a time to question everything we were taught and what we believed. I think it's safe to say that our times are changing, and not for the better. Yet despite all that's going on in the world, the one thing that hasn't changed is the commitment to prepare yourself to do what you need to do to make a goal materialize. Very rarely does it ever happen overnight. But many times I've questioned myself if I really am ready to do the things that need to be done.

I was recently watching the 1987 movie "The Untouchables" on cable, which remains one of my favorite movies because of one special scene. For those who are unfamiliar, the film deals with the struggles of Eliot Ness, an agent with the Bureau of Prohibition (which falls under the U.S. Department of the Treasury), who is struggling with the process of bringing Al Capone and his gang to justice. Kevin Costner, who plays Ness, is pondering this dilemma in a church as he is talking to Sean Connery (who won the Oscar for playing Jimmy Malone, an Irish police officer). "I am prepared to do everything within the means of the law," Ness states matter of factly. "And then what are you prepared to do?" retorts Malone back, questioning his commitment to fulfilling his goal. "If you open the ball on these people, you must be prepared to go all the way. If you really want to get Capone, here's what you do. He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way. That's how you get Capone." No doubt dramatic, but the point is made clearly.

I bring this scene up because we're rapidly approaching the end of June, and there will be commencements for all high schools, a few of which have taken place already. I never did attend my moving up exercises, for my feelings of guilt and loneliness overwhelmed me. Yet I see so much hope in the eyes of today's graduates. Every generation has its challenges to face, and this one more than many. Yet if you are prepared to do what you need to do, there's no limit to what you can achieve.

I can still recall vividly the early days of my junior college years. Many students in my graduating class attended college at one of the State University of New York Schools. Albany and Buffalo were pretty popular choices-mainly because it was not too far from home, but just enough to get away from the parental influences. Of course, that doesn't go for Buffalo, which is an eight hour drive if you go nonstop from Long Island. I wanted to go away to school, but I didn't do what had to be done to earn that right. Instead of taking my classes seriously, I often fooled around, and barely graduated with a C+ average. I started off at Nassau Community College, and learned a great deal about myself and the commitment it takes to making things happen. I had to learn to get up at 6 a.m. for 8 a.m. classes, manage my time, fight the frustrations of parking. I also learned most importantly to answer the question posed by most of my teachers: "Why are you here?" And no, it's not enough to say you want to get an education. There has to be more. There needs to be a undying commitment to show you want it. More than anyone else does.

I had my days when I absolutely wanted to be elsewhere. In fact, wouldn't you know I actually ran into one of my classmates at NCC (as it is known) a couple of months after graduation. I asked him what happened, and he said he was asked to leave-his GPA fell below the minimum and he had to return home to build his grades back up. He wasn't someone I was close to, but I asked him if he could offer any advice. "Be focused," was all he told me. Nothing else needed to be said.

So I ask you what are you prepared to do about your stuttering? Sure, there is speech therapy. Some people go, others choose not to, and that is their right. Are you prepared to represent yourself as someone who refuses to let their speech define them? Are you able to motivate yourself, and lead others as well? These questions, and many more, are able to be answered by one person. You can find it within yourself. And if you need some more inspiration, get involved with the NSA Nation, at!

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, June 3, 2010

Emotions, Michigan, and a story about those feelings......

Good evening everyone,

It was a Wednesday night like any other night in Anytown, USA. Even though my remote control was waging a dueling battle between watching the state of Illinois and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania battle for Lord Stanley's Cup, I had to see what was happening in a certain baseball game between the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers. One man, Armando Galarraga, was on the precipice of history. As Andy Warhol put it, we are all promised fifteen minutes of fame. And then, came one of those defining moments that show you just what kind of a person you really are when the world is watching. It was one groundout, just a routine play like which occurs several times in a baseball game. It only took two seconds for one umpire to incorrectly identify the call. And just like that, heartbreak was instantaneous.

Yet for all the criticism, the finger-pointing that was about to take place, there was just as much focus on the pitcher who smiled and said nothing. He could have screamed. He might have gotten right in the person's face and verbally berated them, and practically everyone in the universe would have echoed his sentiments. And even though the umpire apologized repeatedly and admitted he was wrong, there was absolutely nothing that could be done to ameliorate the situation. But above all else, it was the way he handled it.

As a person who stutters, I can say emphatically that for the longest time one of my greatest challenges was the ability to refrain from saying anything. I always had the need to get the last word in, to say what I wanted to. When you stutter, there is always going to be someone who refuses to hear you out. Maybe because they don't have time, or they just don't care. I have never let someone do that to me at all....but when it does happen, you only have a split second to decide what your next response will be. And that, above all else, says a great deal about who you are.

Stuttering for me has really made me examine my emotions in different ways. Being a chapter leader in the National Stuttering Association has shown me that even when you aren't in the public eye, you need to represent yourself the best way possible when it comes to your speech. I have never ever advocated using my stuttering as an excuse for anything, even when it comes to getting angry. I vividly remember in my days in junior high school, high school, and college, all it would take was just one remark about my speech to set me off. I was the grenade, someone who teased me pulled the pin, and now sit back and watch the explosion take place. How I wished back then that I had the self-control not to respond with anger.

Emotions are a big part of my life, and others who stutter because it brings out the best-and at times, the worst in us. We do not know what kind of a speech day we'll have. On the days when we need to be fluent, we may not be, and vice versa. It can drive you mad if you let it. But one of the themes that I stress when I lecture at schools is to make your emotions work for you, and not against you. Easier said than done, I'm sure.

As it turns out, the pitcher accepted the expressions of emotions from the umpire. Not because he had to do, but because it was the right thing to do. There will be some who'll say, "Well the fact that he got a Corvette made up for it." If you want to think that way, then you are certainly entitled to it.

The next time you're out, whether it is just with your friends or flying solo, think about your emotions and what they say about you. I lived too many years of my life being consumed by negativity, and I have made it my personal mission to help others work with controlling their feelings when it comes to stuttering. I promise that if you can do that, you will feel more spiritually alive than you ever thought possible.

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