Monday, August 8, 2011

On July 21, 2011, I was more than I thought I could be!

Good evening everyone,

"I want one moment in time, when I am more than I thought I could be, when all of my dreams are a heartbeat away, and the answers are all up to me. Give me one moment in time, when I am bracing with destiny, and in that one moment of time, I will feel....I will feel...eternity."

That line was brought to you by Whitney Houston, one of the best-known voices from my generation. I could quote some of the songs that have defined an era: "Saving All My Love For You," "Didn't We Almost Have It All," "So Emotional," and "I Will Always Love You." That was theme for the 1988 Summer Olympics held in Seoul, South Korea. And the video captured the raw angst, the pain, and the glory that for any competitor lasts forever. No matter how old you get, or what Olympics you competed in, people will always remember what you did. "There's that gold medal winner," is a sentence that follows you the rest of your life.

The more I think about the Olympics, in many ways, these past four years have been a tournament that I have trying so hard to win. But my ultimate prize was not made of chemicals. And it certainly wasn't presented to me by any official at the games. My "prize" if you will wasn't something tangible. Not money, not love, but a job. I wanted to work more than anything else in the world at a full-time job.

We don't have to open up the local newspaper or turn on the news to see what is happening in the economy. Every time I check Yahoo! or the New York Times, it's on the front page. The images are so ingrained into our psyche that's just so hard to forget. Stockbrokers with their hands on their faces, so exasperated. The grim feelings of hope loss, desperation taking its place. Living on the suburbs of Long Island, a mere 45 minutes away from New York City, you have access to all the financial data you want. But these days you may not want to see it and know what's going on. After all, why ask the question if you know what the answer is going to be?

I graduated with my journalism degree, and although I still love writing (and do freelance and this blog of course), I grew disillusioned with the opportunities that were out there. And after having a rough experience with attorneys, I decided that I had to make some goals and stick to them. I wanted to work for the federal government. I had tried applying in the private sector, and never raised the white flag, despite the rejections and efforts which I felt at times were futile. And I admit, I am a very unique person in the sense that sometimes it does take me a little longer to play "catch up." I have minor characteristics of Asperger's and at times I may learn a little slower than the rest of the world. But no one, under any circumstances, should question my heart. That's the one thing that has grown tremendously over these past few years.

There is a theory that hard work is its own reward. Looking for a job in many ways is like that. The local classifieds have shriveled up, whereas at one time you may have had five or six pages of ads from companies that were more than willing to take a chance on you. Now you're lucky if it's one or two. I would stay up until the wee hours of the morning, being a night owl. I'd send out fifty resumes a day via Monster, and Craigslist. I'd research the names of companies that ran advertisements, even when they did not want to be found. And sometimes I'd get lucky...only to discover that my message was returned with a scammer e-mail, saying there was a personal assistant job for me working from home for some reclusive billionaire. Good luck with that.

I had interviews these past two months with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one of the biggest federal agencies located in Bethesda, Md. Although I was very excited about the chance to meet with representatives of that organization, I always told myself to stay grounded. Interviews in this age come few and far between. Now of course, you want to put your best foot forward: best suit, confident personality. But I'd be lying if I thought in the back of my mind that things would materialize. After all, even the most confident of people would tell you that the worst thing that show itself is arrogance. Confidence is one thing. Feelings of entitlement are another.

And on July 21, I did it. Walt Whitman might have said it best: "O Captain, O Captain, our fearless trip is done. The prize we sought has been won." I got the job! After four years, one journey is over, and another one soon begins. I don't mean the journey down the New Jersey Turnpike to I-95 via the Fort McHenry Tunnel, looping around the Capital Beltway and merging with I-270 north. The greatest journey of my life is about to start. Being on my own, having a chance to live on my terms because I am a person who stutters and no one holds me back. No one is going to tell me what I can and cannot do.

What bothers me is that many times people are quick to say things to the effect of "I want to thank all of you who hated me and told me I would never get to this point." In my opinion, all you did is just completely devalue yourself as a person. Who cares what others may say? YOU have to, make that NEED to, hold yourself to higher standards. I am not interested in "haterade," or giving the "haters" their due. Life is much more important than that. I can go at my own pace, and not worry about what others may think of me.

I do give all the praise and glory to the National Stuttering Association for this achievement. I am very honored to advocate on their behalf and will continue to do so until the day I am no longer on this earth.

I hope those reading this understand that my blog entries will be a little more wide now in terms of when I can write. I am not going away, but even so while I am in another state, I will continue to share my thoughts, just with not as much frequency. But if anyone out there sees this, understand one thing: Nothing is ever impossible. Sometimes it may take four years, or longer. But I am now ready for the next challenge. More so than I have ever been in a while. You too, will be ready. Your time will come.

It ain't about how fast you get there. It ain't about what's waiting on the other side. It's the climb.

Monday, July 18, 2011

God Blessed Texas and the NSA Nation!!!

Good evening everyone,

I'd like to start off by saying how elated I am to be returning to my blog and sharing all things stuttering with this special community all over the world. Since my absence has been a few weeks, I want to make it up to you by sharing some experiences from a very special National Stuttering Association conference. For those who have read my blog frequently, you know how I speak of this special event with great admiration and a true love for my fellow people who stutter and the accomplishments we celebrate. But was 2011 ever a year for celebrating!!!

The buzz for our conference always hits a fever pitch about three weeks before, when we know it is so close at hand. Well, not this year. Try imagining it a few months before. We confirmed that attendance records would be shattered, and they were. We broke 800 for the first time, ever. Every year, the number of first-time attendees grows. This year, we had 300!!!! We had many new presenters step forward to give workshops and seminars. I have had the pleasure of presenting a few of them (2008 in Parsippany, N.J., 2009 in Scottsdale, Ariz., and 2010 in Cleveland, Ohio) but this time around, I took a step back and watched many new members embrace the challenges. Although I am not married (and aren't sure if I ever will), I can say emphatically that in a way, I will always be married to the NSA. It is because of my work with them that has shown me how to fully develop and mature into the type of person I want to be. It is because of them that I can lecture at universities, write this blog to reach all who stutter, and give a voice to those who want to speak, but are hurting and very afraid.

We held our conference at the Renaissance Worthington, located right in the heart of downtown Fort Worth, Texas, known as the "Gateway to the American South," and "Where the West begins." Although I had been to Texas once (in Houston), I had no idea what I was really in for. Although Fort Worth is 30 miles from Dallas via I-30, Fort Worth had always been portrayed as "the way Texas was meant to be seen." So if you were thinking of cowboys, the Wild West, and history, then you've come to the right city. Dallas is very cosmopolitan and modern, yet there are few places that retain its charm. As I flew into Love Field on Southwest and started my journey to the hotel, the only thing that was going through my mind was my experiences crossing the Bay Bridge in Maryland on Route 50. The Annapolis (Bay) Bridge connects the Eastern Shore of Maryland, which is very rural and known for its slower way of life surrounded by pristine beaches and a big fishing community, with the western part of the state (i.e. Baltimore and the Washington DC suburbs), and upon crossing the bridge, it felt like you stepped through the galaxy portal into a whole other universe and you're blown away completely.

As soon as I entered the doors of the hotel, my eyes would lay to rest on some of the most charismatic members in the NSA that I know, and the shouts are so loud, yet filled with unrestrained glee. In essence, the NSA conference could be described as an overgrown camp for people who stutter. We laugh, we cry, we share, we dream, we do, and we catch up with each other about what has been going on in our lives. I make sure to arrive on Tuesday, because once the conference kicks off Wednesday night, it goes faster than a DeLorean that hits 55. But don't worry, you're not transported back in time....yet.

Wednesday night we kicked off NSA 2011 with a choice of a night out at Six Flags over Texas, or seeing the Texas Rangers host Baltimore. I'm not much of a theme park person, never was. (Probably having dreams of being suspended over the park upside down was enough to turn me off to it). So myself and 200 others took in the Rangers game with 30,000 other fans. What an incredible experience! There's something classic about enjoying a game under the stars with a hot dog, cold beer (or ice cold water, which was in plentiful supply-it did not get below 100 degrees all the days we were there) and just talking with soon-to-be best friends. You laugh at the fact that you may be in your thirties and doing the Wave. Or how in the bottom of the fifth inning, your whole section breaks into singing "Deep In The Heart of Texas." For four days, we were all Texans by the grace of God!

I get so much faith and tremendous strength by watching the young children and teens turn themselves into young men and women as they will be the next generation of NSA leaders. I know I repeat myself often on this blog, but if I do, it's only because it's true. This is one place where age is just a number. At 13 years of age, these children have confidence I never had but desperately wanted to call my own. I learn from conference veterans in their fifties and sixties (and beyond!) and teens and twentysomethings can learn from me being 33. I've been where they are going. If I can save one person from having a painful experience, then it will all have been worth it to me. Friday night a group of us went to the Stockyards in historic Fort Worth and walked around to see what life was like back in the day....more like 200 years ago though. I left early to help one of my friends, who is comedienne who stutters, make her debut at Rick O' Shea's. About 150 members came out to cheer her on, and she was just unstoppable with her jokes. A few years ago, mention the words "stuttering comedienne" and you would have heard "Yeah..r-i-i-i-i-ght. Good luck with that." It's amazing what stuttering can fact, it could help you develop talents you never even knew you had! Maybe somewhere out there is a person who stutters that was given a play music, to create, to build....but they don't know they have it!

And then there was Saturday. The NSA was able to bring David Seidler, the Academy-Award winning writer of "The King's Speech," to be our keynote speaker. Mr. Seidler is the only person who could be introduced, get a two-minute ovation, and not have to say anything. But he did. He regaled us with his stories of growing up in London and coming over to America. He shared with us how his stuttering shaped us. And when he said "My name is David, I'm a person who stutters, and I am proud of it," the crowd just exploded into sheer ecstasy. Not only that, but he was truly a gentleman and signed posters and photos for us, and he took the liberty to personalize them. He did not have to do that at all. If that does not tell you the type of person he is, then I'm sorry, but I can't help you. We had a closing ceremony where one parent spoke about her son's stutter, and started to break down and apologize. She apologized to her own son for not listening, not understanding, and she begged forgiveness. I began to weep on my own. A police officer spoke about how he nearly turned around after being ten minutes from the hotel, but was so glad he didn't. And there was this unforgettable moment: Every year, we have a series of "Open Mike" sessions where anyone who stutters can get up and share any stories they want. A young man who was in his twenties came up and said that there was a young woman who stuttered so severely that she barely spoke during the conference. He then said something to the effect of "I will not say who this person is in the room, but I know if we encourage this person to get up and speak, she'll do so!" The room quickly turned into cheers and loud roars, and when the young woman got up, it reached a crescendo. "My name is D-m-m-m-m-D-D-D-a-nnn-yela," she stated, to even more loud applause. That says it is all about what a powerful, amazing community we really have.

The closing banquet for me is always emotional, especially during the last ten minutes. It even hit closer to home because we danced to "DJ Stutter," who is a real-life person who stutters but also performs in his hometown at the local club scene. When you realize the end really is near and you won't see these people for another year, the dam begins to burst and the tears flow. And you know that no matter how frustrated you get, how you long to give them one more goodbye before they go to the airport, the days will move by fast and soon enough there will be another conference in 2012.

The past few days, I've been playing "You're Gonna Miss This" by Trace Adkins frequently, and if you listen to the lyrics in the chorus, it makes perfect sense. Especially if you are a first-timer, but we can all relate to it:

"You're gonna miss this, you're gonna want this back, you're gonna wish these days hadn't gone by so fast, these are some good times, so take a good look around, you may not know it now....but you're gonna miss this."

We already do. Just remember, it ain't about how fast you get there, and it ain't about what's waiting on the other side. It's the climb.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

And now introducing myself as....Knight Rider?!

Hello everyone,

If you're a movie buff, this is the best time of the year. This is the season when Hollywood unveils the big guns, the blockbusters, which they will hope will fill their coffers with money spent by the fans to ask up the best experience that their twenty dollars will buy-a plush seat on a Saturday night, a slam-bang two hours worth of loud explosions with pulse-pounding scenes that can make your jaw drop, all presented in IMAX glory. Yet for some reason, I'm not into that at all. But the one thing about the summer movies for me is the stories they present. I've always been attracted to the "lone hero"-the avenger who finds himself pursuing a calling out of some personal reason-loss, pain, angst, so much to the point that he/she actually finds himself becoming an anti-hero: questioning all they ever believed in, wondering what their future holds. I guess that's why I have always been attracted to reruns of "Knight Rider."

Although I was not born in the 1980s (officially 1978), I like to think of myself as forever trapped in the decade in terms of culture. I still listen to eighties music, and can recite the most popular lines from "Top Gun" and "The Breakfast Club." ("There are no points for second best."). And when I used to come home from my part-time job at the Milleridge Village at 5 p.m., as soon as my car pulled up at the house, I'd dart through the door, and turn on Channel 9, WWOR-TV. And as soon as I'd hear the words, "A shadowly flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist," I knew I was in my element. The voiceover, which was done by Richard Basehart, would go "Michael Knight. A young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, the powerless. In a world of criminals who operate above the law." The show was deemed, by creator Glen Larson, as "The Lone Ranger with a car, the soul of a western." It was also the show that launched David Hasselhoff's career. The main story was that Michael Long was an undercover detective in Las Vegas who was nearly fatally injured. A reclusive billionaire named Wilton Knight rescues him and gave him a new identity, Michael Knight, and he was working for the Foundation for Law & Government with a souped-up special car, that possessed technology way ahead of its time. And every week, Knight would came to the aid of a person trying to do good but facing enemies who did not want that person to succeed.

But despite the fact at the end of the episode that everything worked out, you always knew there was a sense of something missing from Knight's past. A feeling that no matter what happened, or how many times the show aired, he would never have what he really wanted. In the episode "White Bird," the theme rang true. Michael came to the rescue of an ex-fiancee whom he was scheduled to wed, but he became Michael Knight and never saw her again, until he realized she was about testify in a court case. All those romantic feelings came back, and he had to make a painful choice: one that most of us in that situation could never fathom.
For many years of my life, I was what you might see as a "Knight Rider." Traveling from table to table in the high school and college cafeterias, searching the Internet for message boards and web sites that I could post my thoughts about stuttering on, to no avail. But now, that has all changed. Ever since I got involved with the National Stuttering Association, I found my drive and my commitment. Maybe I'll never drive a car like KITT was. Or fly a helicopter like Airwolf.

But if they ever made my life story into a "Knight Rider" episode, maybe the voiceover will sound a little something like this:

"Steven Kaufman. An outspoken advocate and leader on a crusade to enlighten the world about stuttering awareness. Operating in a world where most people misunderstand, bringing the shining beacon of light through the darkness."

Just maybe, you can be your own version of "Knight Rider" 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.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Letters to my dad for Father's Day....

Dear Dad,

I realize that Father's Day has passed as of the midnight hour, and you may have been wondering why I did not get a card from you. The honest truth is that what I want to say really can't all be written down in a card. And then again, nor do I want it to be either. After a while giving the same old greeting card becomes blasé and all played out. And I figured it was time for a new approach, one that hit me when we were at the Mets game yesterday. It's funny how inspiration can come at you from the most oddest of places.

These past few years my feelings toward you have been festering for so long. Although I am 33 now, in many ways I barely know you anymore. Most of our conversations now take place at hockey games, and those are limited too. It's the same thing when I walk through the door, or when you come home from your job fairs. It just consists of "Hi, how are you?" and barely anything more than that. They say tomorrow is promised to no one, and while we often dismiss that with a roll of the eyes, the sad thing is that it actually is true. I do not know how much time you have left, hopefully a great deal. But the first thing I wanted to say in this letter is that I forgive you for many things that have taken place over these past few years.

I forgive you first of all for causing my intense fear of rain and thunderstorms. I know that you do get immense pleasure of watching me run into the television viewing room when the meteorologist talk about severe thunderstorms taking aim at our viewing area. I discussed this with Larry and stated that ever since you hit me with a shoe when I was thirteen because I cursed you out to your face, you have been responsible for the association of my feelings toward severe weather and that is why I feel I have to stay up all night with the radio to "ride the storm out" until it is safe for me to sleep. I know you think it is hysterically funny to poke fun at my views and desire to live in an area where it doesn't rain all that often where I can finally be happy. I've spent too many years of my life running, and while I have gotten good at it, I do not want to do it anymore. I know your emotions probably got the better of you, and while you wish you could take it back, you cannot to do so. But I want you to know it is OK now. You were a different person back then. Parents are infallible too, much as they like to think they may know it all.

The second thing that I want to let you know is that while I am your son, in many ways while you may think I am hotheaded and stubborn, we are more alike as well. I know sometimes I am very outspoken and that has gotten me in trouble. But I am at a place now where I am learning to balance myself and ask whether what I will say is going to be correct and appropriate. In many ways, having a leadership role at the National Stuttering Association was probably the best thing that ever could happen to me, because it forced me to be aware of what it means to be an adult and know that people are looking at you to be a role model.

I know that you have often felt like I should have turned out more like Philip in terms of being productive and more responsible with my life. I am not proud of a lot of things I have done, and in many things, I could be a lot further along with achieving my goals than where I am now. I know it's kind of hard to not compare yourself to others, but I know now that life is not a race, and he who dies with the most toys necessarily doesn't win.

I would really like the chance to formulate some relationship with you because I don't want to end up as another person wishing they had the chance to turn the clock back when things are too late. I always used to feel so much hatred toward you in terms of my speech that my attitude was "God forgives, I don't." But now I see there are shades of gray in everything and it doesn't always have to be "either it's right, or it's wrong." I even blamed you and Mom for my stuttering because in some way, maybe you feel guilty about it. But it's no one's fault. This is the hand I have to play. And I like to think so far, I've played it very well, and continue to do so.

It took a lot for me to want to write this letter and get all my thoughts out to you. I hope maybe someday you and Mom will want to visit a future NSA conference and see what the greatest thing in my life is all about. If you don't, I will respect your decision. But it's safe to say because of the NSA, your son has made huge quantum leaps in his life.

To my dad, Happy Father's Day.



Monday, May 23, 2011

Spindarella cut it up one time! Let's talk about stuttering and why it is not fear....

Good evening everyone,

Before I begin my latest edition of the blog, I want to personally welcome and acknowledge each of you, my followers, who take time out of their day to read and think about my reflections on stuttering. I know that free time is at a premium in today's world, and many of us say "thank you," without even realizing that it needs to be genuine-we often say it just because it is polite. So please allow me to give a genuine, heartfelt "Thank you" to each of you. Regardless of where you live in this world, you are not only my friends, but my greatest allies in the world of stuttering. Together we devote all of our energies to make not only our world, but yours and mine, just a little bit more tolerant, a little more grateful.

The greatest thing about being a blogger, in my eyes, is not only the chance to impact my life and others, but to also learn about things from experiences of other people in my life who shape my values, not only as a person, but what I expect from myself as a human being. One of these individuals I happened to have the pleasure of meeting a few years ago at a charity gala for Our Time Theatre in New York City. You may have heard me mention how phenomenal I think Our Time is. Our Time was founded by an actor who stutters and it is a place where children who stutter can express themselves in a free, non-judgmental environment, based on love of performing arts and the theatre. Every year the children write plays and perform them, and there is a grand gala fundraiser which further helps to spread stuttering awareness. The person I met, "Mikaela," is also a writer and blogger (as well as a person who stutters), and is dating a young man whom I have had the chance to hang out with ,"Bobby," at several National Stuttering Association conferences. For a few years, they have lived together in Cook County, Ill., home to the City of Big Shoulders and the Second City, better known as Chicago, or Chi-town, or any other nickname you can identify the city by. That is, until a few months ago, when Mikaela and Bobby decided to leave the Midwest for New York City.

I am a firm believer in honoring the official writer's code, so I want to give her the full credit with regard to her feelings. She writes "As the snow formed four foot walls down the semi-ploughed roads, we were paying three times our old rent in Chicago. It was a baptism by fire and there were times when we questioned our sanity." She was scared. She was worried. Yet she was also doing whatever she wanted because she happens to have completed a book about stuttering that will be picked up by a publisher.

We often have moments in our life when we ask ourselves "What if I chose that? What if I had made a different decision?" without wondering what will happen. Sadly we do not have the preview of having a "coming attraction" in life and seeing what will develop. But I see people around me are not letting fear stand in their way of doing what they want. I just found out that a member of the NSA, who is a fellow chapter leader like I am, is actually going off to law school at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., and he's in his late forties. But if you want any further proof that fear does not have to stand in your way, consider the upcoming National Stuttering Association conference in Fort Worth, Texas.

The workshop rosters were presented in the newsletter, "Letting GO," and I always love seeing who will be among the select few who will be sharing their experiences with us as presenters. I do want to emphasize, though, that you need not be a presenter in order to share with everyone. We are all educators when it comes to stuttering. Last year in Cleveland, I continued to see the evolving signs that the NSA is truly a global organization. I had the pleasure of meeting with "Robert," a man from Israel who stutters. This was his first conference and I spent a good deal of time talking to him over dinner, introducing him to many other members. I also explained to him there is nothing to be afraid of when it comes to stuttering-but rather, think of it as being excited-you are excited because you are part of a very special community, where you can have the chance to be part of a conference where we all celebrate everything stuttering is. This is one of my favorite lines to use: "What stuttering is, what it can be, and what it will be."

What it will NEVER be is fear. I promise you that.

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 10, 2011

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to describe your stuttering experiences in one word....Go!

Hello everyone,

We all have different routines that take place after work. For some of us, we're the first out the door when our workday is over. Others may spend a few minutes checking their BlackBerry or other PDA while juggling a conversation about what will be on the dinner table. The last few weeks, whenever I leave work, I've found myself listening to "Intelligence For Your Life," otherwise known as The John Tesh Radio Show. Syndicated from Los Angeles, and airing here on WKJY/98.3, the show (as well as his web site, offer valuable tips and great suggestions on all kinds of topics with every type of situation you can think of.

As I was perusing the site yesterday, I came across a phrase that stuck in my mind for a few hours: "The Great Humbling." According to career coach Judith Gerberg, who was cited in the article, there's been a drastic increase in unemployment among college-educated men 35-64, almost double what it was before the recession took place. Now, there seems to be a great shift in attitude, which is going a long way toward helping others find a good position.

I often ask myself how I can describe the experiences of being a person who stutters with one word. Many times when I have spoken to graduate students I am asked various questions, but never in that form. I think it is one of the most difficult things to try and answer something with one word. But if you pin me down and ask that of me, I would say "Stuttering has made me humble."

I've met many people who stutter and while the National Stuttering Association's conference has been viewed as the first day of the rest of your lives (which is emphatically 100 percent true), I think the world humble has shown me a lot because of the work I have done. First, being humble means knowing (and accepting) that it is not about you. Period. This is a lesson that I think unfortunately some people still have not mastered. I am 33 years of age, and it took me into my late twenties to finally understand it. When I was in high school, there may have been times when I wanted an extension on a paper-and granted, some teachers gave it because they felt a student deserved a second chance, etc. I feel that I often excelled in classes where the instructor was a disciplinarian-tough, but fair. While some other students may have been cursing under their breath, I actually relished the chance to sit up front and learn their styles, and the way they taught their classes. I'm the first person who will come forward to congratulate someone on their award if they are presented, and offer my compliments when someone has something wonderful happen to them-receiving a scholarship, being engaged, and so on. If you can't give of yourself to at least say "Congratulations," that's not an attractive quality. It's not fun being a killjoy and making others feel bad. I was that person for a long time. I don't want to ever become him again.

Being humble also means accepting that sometimes you will make mistakes and learn from them. One of the lessons I have stated in my seminars was something my late grandfather taught me: "The only perfect people are dead people. Because they do not have any problems." There's nothing wrong with setting high standards and wanting to achieve them. But if we make an error on the way to that platform, that too is OK. It can be saying something hurtful, breaking a promise to someone. If the executive director of the NSA asks me to do something, my word is my bond. If for some reason I am unable to do it, I will acknowledge my mistake and how to make it right.

Even more than the things I have described, being humble to me also means learning to accept others as they are and knowing you can try to help-even if the other person doesn't want it or can't see the reasons why. I have a good friend named "Johnny" who I grew up with in high school. "Johnny" is my age, 33, but he also has severe learning disabilities that make itvery hard, if not impossible, for him to hold down a job-in fact, his parents made him file for Social Security feeling that his disability will prevent him from any meaningful work. I've often asked myself why he is who he is, and why I am the way I am. We both have our challenges and work the best we can to overcome them. Maybe the rest of the world won't accept him the way he is. But just by listening, offering a supporting hand, that's being humble. Offering to take him out for an occasional dinner at the local diner can be a special gesture that can mean the world to him.

Yes, maybe that's a great word to describe my experiences: Humble. I was humble when I accepted my awards for Volunteer of the Year and Member of the Year and making sure that everyone is owed a part of it. My fellow NSAers make me humble. And I've never been more proud to say that, and always remember the current future lessons they will share with me.

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

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Just Whose Reality Is It Anyway?

Hello everyone,

Everywhere you look these days, it's evident that reality television has invaded our worlds and shows no signs of stopping. It started with "The Real World" on MTV, spread to a certain real estate mogul who may run for the highest office in the United States ending each show with "You're fired," and there have even been movies that discuss different aspects of the reality craze: from Ron Howard's "EDtv" to the independent "Series 7: The Contenders." But just a few days ago, the organization that I am heavily involved with, the National Stuttering Association, was directly asked to participate.

I received a phone call from a representative at Ryan Seacrest Productions, based on the West Coast, to discuss my interest in participating in a reality show based around stuttering. My name had been passed on by a colleague who I work with at the NSA, and as I was listening to what was described, I felt my heart racing. Wow, I thought, this is really a chance to do something good and help people who stutter. Now you might be saying, "But I already do that anyway." Yes, I do. Not only am I a chapter leader, but I am also an advocate and an ambassador for the NSA. I could be on television and spread the word about the NSA and just how phenomenal it really is. Right now, with the major victories achieved by "The King's Speech" (winning Oscars for Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture), stuttering awareness has never been as important before, as it is right now. The representative asked me if I would be happy to receive a flyer, and I said sure. As I opened up the attachment, I began to furrow my brow in curiosity when I read that the show wanted to pair me up with a "life coach," someone who could transform my life around and wanted to use an approach which resembled hypnosis. Or as the person told me, "You'll be getting $40,000 worth of therapy for free." This so-called "life coach," would be known as "The Fixer," as he stated he could help you overcome any kind of major life challenge that was preventing you from accomplishing what you wanted.

As it was expected, this naturally drew comments from all different sides of the spectrum of NSA members. Chapter leaders are both new and seasoned professionals, and we also have leaders who are in high school and college. There was a great concern that this company was really not all that interested in truly finding out about stuttering, but rather they were looking for ratings and help promote the agenda of this coach. Some even believed that this show was merely looking to cash in on the fact that now "stuttering is hot." Some members were contacted in different states, including Florida and even north of the border, in Canada. The National Stuttering Association believes that people who stutter not only deserve respect and tolerance, but that above all else, people are human beings first and foremost. Safe to say, their biggest concern was not having their members be exploited or looked at as the butt of a joke.

However, at one time the NSA was featured in a reality show. When the NSA hosted their annual conference in Atlanta back in 2007, we had three of our members play prominent roles in a series broadcast on MTV called "True Life." The episode, called "I Stutter," followed their daily lives as they faced a unique set of challenges. One member, "Melissa," was trying to find a level of comfort with her speech-she would at times identify herself by another name which was easier to say. Another person, "Todd," was an SLP graduate student at West Virginia University and was in danger of being evicted because he could not get a job. Another woman, "Lacey," was trying to become a beauty queen in a state pageant and was scared of having to do well on the oral interview. They were followed around the conference and treated fairly and with respect. They were not coached or prompted to say anything that they did not want to. In fact, "Melissa" is still good friends with the producers to this day. The NSA will be the first organization to offer assistance if there is just and proper representation. When the movie "Talladega Nights" came out, and Columbia Pictures wanted support from NASCAR, the executives at NASCAR insisted their drivers be shown in the best way possible, and not in some stereotypical manner.

After much deliberation, the NSA felt that the right thing to do was to ask its chapter leaders (and members) to refrain from participating in the show. While the NSA may not have any official codes of conduct, I take my responsibilities seriously in the community, and I cannot in good faith have accepted the way I might have been portrayed. They did acknowledge for some people, going on the show might be a good way to help self-confidence. Then again, you can join the NSA too! The NSA also went as far to ask for support from other organizations to join them in their support to boycott the show. What is truly wonderful is that although there may be other organizations that work toward different goals with regard to stuttering, we can see common ground and there is mutual respect.

What caused a great deal of strife is the view that people who stutter need to be "fixed." You can fix a car. You can even fix your cat or dog (which I recommend as an animal lover). But people who stutter don't have to be fixed, nor should they want to. I feel horrible in retrospect that I even considered this program. If I am guilty of something, maybe I was guilty of believing that someone really wanted to help me by giving me a platform where I could share how the NSA has transformed my life and more. I think it's safe to say though that I don't need to be fixed.

For the longest time, I felt like my stuttering made me a mistake. I now firmly say my stuttering made more resilient, and knowing that someone out there will see just who I am.

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, April 19, 2011

And what will you do in July?

Hello everyone,

Well, spring is finally here. And the telltale signs of it are abound: the mercury is rising, the sun is making more appearances, and unfortunately, so is the severe weather, depending on what region of the country you live in. The smell of grilled bratwurst and hot dogs indicate that the boys of summer have once again returned to the baseball diamond, and there were Opening Days all across the stadiums earlier this month. But you may not be aware of this, but there is also another kind of Opening Day. This is not an official holiday, but it's a time to start the official countdown to four days of a powerful bonding experience unlike anything you will ever know in your life. That's right, I am talking about the 2011 National Stuttering Association Annual Conference. Held this year in Fort Worth, Texas, the Gateway to the American South. Asking someone to describe this event is akin to asking a dentist if he can do a triple root canal in one day...asking the impossible. But if you asked me, I think I could do a great job summarizing it in one sentence: "Four days of kick-ass stuttering education, empowerment, and damn good alcohol." (Of course, you have to remember 21 Means 21).

But as much as I love what my Opening Day means to me, I am also struggling with a concept that tends to make me feel a great twinge of sadness. There are many people out there who stutter who may not want to come to an NSA conference. We know that times are very rough right now, and the economy is wrecking havoc on a lot of people. But regardless, I've traveled up and down the Northeast Megalopolis and met many of my fellow people who stutter, and despite my best intentions, the conference doesn't appeal to some people or they may feel ashamed or frightened to come to an event of this magnitude. I want to use this edition of the blog to discuss why some people feel the way they do, and maybe find some alternatives that could help someone find out about this conference. Long Beach, Calif., was my first one. And so far, it will always be my favorite just because it's the first time. The first time I could say "Hello" without shame, the first time I learned how to look someone in the eye and not stare at the floor because I felt guilty. (Something which I still struggle with to this day). I'm going to discuss some common statements I have heard and share the best way I know how to rebut these arguments. This will hopefully inspire some healthy debate and if it gets one person who is reading it to want to come to the NSA conference this year and see what it's all about, it will have been worth it. One person who will see David Seidler, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of "The King's Speech" share his life story with an electrifying crowd. One person who finally meet another person who stutters and sees that maybe we are all alike, and we're fighting the same challenges every day.

Excuse #1: "A stuttering conference? Good luck with that, it'll never work." My response: If you don't think that this can work, you should know there is an audience...and a very involved one at that." If it can play in Peoria, then it will play everywhere. For those who do not know what this quote means, please allow me to explain. "Will it play in Peoria?" refers to the city of Peoria, Ill., a city that to many is the epitome of Midwestern values. In the days of vaudeville, apparently there was a quote to the effect of "We're playing in Peoria" and over the years, the quote began to manifest itself in different ways. So to be asked "Will it play in Peoria?" means will there be a base, will there be a niche for it. 700+ people who stutter selling out a hotel can't be wrong. Maybe you'd like to meet some of our members who can prove that stuttering can work and be an integegral part of the lives they lead and the ones they change: One young woman from Kansas who wasn't sure she could be an SLP, and now graduated with her degree. How about a teenager from South Dakota who helped inspire a statewide conference about stuttering? It will play. Maybe Homey D. Clown doesn't think certain things will play, but I can certainly affirm that a stuttering conference certainly does, and much more!

Excuse #2: "I don't want to spend my summer vacation like this...boring." My response: Unless you're one of the few who live off the I-4 corridor in Florida or I-405 in Southern California, summer is not exactly year round. We only have three months to take advantage of 80-degree days, crashing ocean waves, good hiking conditions. For some people, their idea of a good vacation is this: going to South Beach and getting smashed at the bars, or going to Las Vegas and bumping and grinding with a woman you won't even remember the next day. Is that really how you want to remember your summer? Imagine returning on the first day of your school year or semester and receiving the obligatory "How was your summer?" You can say "I spent it with my best friends Jim Beam and Jack Daniels" or you can say "I had a frustrating year, but I learned how to channel my anger over stuttering and take control of my life." You can say how you met the most unique people and shared late nights just laughing and crying, and coming together for an emotional banquet on the last night of the conference. Who knows, you may be even able to say you met a really special person's been known to happen!

Excuse #3: "I got better things to spend my money my car payment. Or going to the casinos." My response: Hey we all need to get around. If you want to donate money to the likes of Donald Trump, that's all well and good with me. But for those who are buying a new car, look at it this way. The moment you drive the car off the dealership lot, the car loses 30 percent of its value, and just continues to depreciate. I can guarantee you the lessons you learn here will appreciate in value every time you use them in your daily life. And with every conference you go to, they will grow stronger and become your rock and salvation through good times and bad ones.

Excuse #4: "I really can't be around others who stutter. It just isn't for me, and I'm not ready." My response: This is something that isn't an uncommon feeling. For many people who stutter, it can be frightening enough just to go into a restaurant, or even to go to the local multiplex and buy a movie ticket at the box office. Multiply that by a thousand and you can feel empathy that for a person who struggles with this every day, being in a hotel and surrounded by others 24/7 for four days. But we are in this together. We were all there once. We remember our first, not that one LOL. We remember the feeling of meeting each other, saying our names and knowing that no matter how long it took, what mattered is we were there with one goal in mind.

I hope there may be someone who is reading this who may just want to go to an NSA conference but is still wondering what to do. There's no better time like the present. If ever you felt that you might want to see what it's all about it, then get to Texas. It doesn't matter whether you hike, fly, rent a donkey (well you can if you are at the Grand Canyon) and go on the side of I-30. Just be there. I promise you-you'll going to see yourself in a brand new way. And you'll love it. Go to for the details.

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

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Keep "The King's Speech" R-rated, please.....

Good evening everyone, I begin this blog entry with something I find very interesting, and for some readers, controversial As a person who stutters, there are many different ways to explore this topic, but yet I want to present a debate for both sides that is fair and just. The Weinstein Company, which is the studio behind the Academy Award-winning "The King's Speech," has made a decision to re-release the movie on April 1. This is not an uncommon move for many movies that have been the lucky recipient of a date with Oscar, especially for ones that may have struggled at the box office to attract an audience or want to showcase the film for as long as possible. But what was more shocking was the fact that the new version is "sanitized," and is being rated PG-13. The studio in its press release, lauds the fact that "This action enables those to whom it speaks most directly-young people who are troubled by stuttering, bullying, and other trials-to see it." Now although the studio has not said what specific cuts were made, it is a safe assumption to say that there is one scene which is probably being referenced to. Out of sheer frustration, Colin Firth, who was nothing short of brilliant, swears continuously with the F-bomb to try and express himself. Now we have all heard this word and pretty much like it or not, it is a part of the modern-day vernacular. After all, try and find one person in this lifetime who has not swore using an obscene expression. This one scene is very critical to his performance, and a central theme for the emotional experiences he is going through. In fact, Firth has gone on record in saying "The film should stand as it is." It is always an option for a movie to be re-submitted to the MPAA for an appeal of its rating. I remember when "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" was given the R rating (Under 17 requires an accompanying adult or guardian), and Universal Pictures felt that would prevent teens from seeing it because Adam Sandler is a big draw. So after a few edits, the PG-13 rating was applied. And the MPAA has been a firm proponent that these ratings are guidelines only, they are not meant to be taken as gospel. I want to say emphatically that as a person who stutters, I applaud the fact that more people will be able to see the movie. But what makes me sad is that the studio needs to edit the movie to do so. Watching him struggle forming his words hit home for me because when I am in a funk, I do the same thing. I've struggled with my speech the past month and many times wanted to yell out "Fuck! I can't say the word," but I haven't done so. Probably because I'd be looked at in public. But if you think about it, imagine what the reaction would be if other movies were edited the same way. Look at "Schindler's List." How would a history teacher feel if all the executions were taken away-that is a very upsetting part of our history, but yet it needs to be told. What about "Saving Private Ryan?" How would it look if all the graphic violence was edited out because a student found it upsetting that a soldier stepped on a land mine and his whole body was blown up as a result. Citing another example, take 1988's "The Accused," with Jodie Foster. The movie was hailed for her performance which also won her the Oscar as a rape victim, and the film was mentioned for its accurate portrayal of a victim (and there is a graphic gang rape scene as well). If that was removed, what might the reaction be? When I watched the movie, I felt that was I viewing it from two different perspectives: One as a regular person, but another one as an advocate for the National Stuttering Association and a person who stutters. In many cases, the two can overlap. I think ultimately, the decision on where we stand regarding the editing version is up to each one of us. But there can be no denying the impact this movie has had, and will continue to have for future generations of people who stutter. I think we also need to realize that we are responsible for our own judgments about the movie and it the rating. There may be some who think the R rating automatically means the kiss of death for a movie but there are much worse things to see. I vividly remember watching "Basic Instinct" in theaters and feeling disgusted at first because the film shows human sexuality in a perverse manner. A healthy relationship isn't about S&M or fetishes. It's about caring for someone and loving them deeply in spite of their flaws. But looking back on it, I realize it was one director's interpretation of what love is. My interpretation of the movie: Keep "The King's Speech" proud. Keep it the way it is. My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

To comment or not to comment...that is the ultimate question

Good evening everyone,

We've all had moments when we have desperately wanted to turn back the hands of time. For instance, when we've hurt someone or done something that has caused irreparable harm to others. In that category we can also include opening of the mouth and saying something that is inappropriate. Those who read my blog on a regular basis know how passionate I am about all things stuttering. But for me, this particular entry is a very personal one.

This past Saturday I happened to be taking a nap while listening to the sounds of one of our all-news stations, 1010WINS (, and while I usually keep it on for the purpose of knowing what time it is as well as swearing by their live Accuweather forecasts, I was jarred from my sleep by a comment that incensed me.

The former mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, was apparently quoted as saying that when it come to President Barack Obama's policies on Libya, he was a "stuttering weakling." Now I want to make one thing emphatically clear. My blog has never been about politics or whatever ideologies people believe in. But any time a comment is made about stuttering, I will be the first to respond. And boy, did I have a lot to say on this.

To be clear, I was faced with some conflicting emotions on this, whether I should comment on this or not. After all, this isn't the first time someone has said something derogatory about a rival or a competitor. And probably after three weeks, we'll all forget he even mentioned this. But I know as a person who stutters, there could be no way in good conscience I could let this go. I am very proud to be an advocate who stutters, and whenever support is needed for anything stuttering, I am often the first one who will happily volunteer-not because I have to, but because I want to. We all make our mark on this world in different ways-some lecture. Some paint and contribute timeless pieces to museums. Others write about the world and how it can be changed. Well, my way of making this world better is to educate and empower people who stutter. That is my mission, and my work is never done.

These days, it seems like there is a strong trend to hold people accountable for what they say. Sure, being a politician can get ugly. We have watched the commercials ("Candidate A raised taxes! Candidate B fathered a child out of wedlock!") as mud is thrown at each other. It seems like any sense of civility is fake, even at debates ("I want to say how honored I am to be here with my worthy adversary...). But corporations and other businesses are very quick to distance themselves from incendiary comments. I can remember a few years ago when Jeremy Shockey, the former tight end for the New York Giants, made a comment about the fans at a home game against Miami Dolphins, because they left early. Apparently he didn't realize that the fans left early because Yom Kippur was beginning at sundown, and very quickly the Giants had to issue a press release apologizing for his comments. According to Paul Schwartz of the New York Post, John Mara, who was the vice-president of the team, acknowledged that "Shockey is not going to be close to being aware of that." And I'm sure he was chastised about it privately. While it is easy to admire the ex-mayor for his leadership during America's darkest hour when the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked, I can't help but feel he should have known better than to make a comment like that. Consider the fact that New York City is the most diverse place on the planet, you'd think he would be more accommodating. After all, this is a city where an Orthodox Jew and Muslim can ride side by side by the subway, or even be friends, and no one would think twice about it.

I did write a letter to him and I addressed my feelings in a diplomatic manner. As to whether I will get any response from him, that remains to be seen. But let me ask you. If we don't stand up for ourselves as people who stutter, then who will? People who stutter are not weak. On the contrary, they are some of the most strongest people I know. My fellow members of the National Stuttering Association are driven and they will never let their speech stand in the way. They are my strength everlasting.

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

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

All Hail The Conquering Hero...King George VI!!!!

Hello everyone!

First, I would like to apologize for not writing on blog frequently. I have to admit that a few things have come up, but now that I am back, I hope to contribute on a weekly basis and continue to share my thoughts about stuttering with all of you.

I still get chills when I think about Feb. 27th, at 8 p.m. The significance of this date will forever be remembered for the Oscars. As a movie buff, most fans watch the Oscars for the key awards: Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and so on. It is well worth it to "suffer" through the technical awards for cinematography and special effects. And despite the fact that we all sit glued to our televisions and marvel at all the celebrities in their gowns that cost a small fortune and their extolling the virtues of their designers, we can't help but wonder what it would be like to be there and witness Hollywood's biggest night, while simultaneously eating a pizza and watching Anne Hathaway and James Franco struggle to live up to the standards set by Bob Hope, and Billy Crystal. You can even add Hugh Jackman's name onto that list.

But as a person who stutters, tonight was going to a defining moment for those who struggle with this communication disorder, as well as SLPs and graduate students looking to enter the field. "The King's Speech" was nominated for 12 Oscars, and was pitted against "The Social Network" in most of the major categories. You often notice that when the celebrities are interviewed on the red carpet, a common cliché is "Well, it's such a thrill to be nominated." Yes, to an extent that is true. Just by the fact that this movie brought tremendous recognition to the cause of stuttering awareness was truly inspiring. Myself, and many other chapter leaders (as well as NSA members) were interviewed by many newspapers, and even radio stations. There were major publications such as The Buffalo News and The Washington Post, and one of our members who works heavily in Family Programs was interviewed on a radio broadcast in Detroit. Another chapter leader appeared on a morning news show in Syracuse. This media campaign, which was orchestrated by the NSA, was something to celebrate and admire. But little did we know that the special night was just beginning.

You see, David Seidler who wrote the original screenplay for the movie, is a person who stutters. He also happens to be our keynote speaker for the 2011 National Stuttering Association annual conference, being held in the great state of Texas. A native of London, but also a Long Islander (who grew up in Great Neck), Seidler's first screenplay was for the 1988 movie "Tucker: A Man And His Dream," starring Jeff Bridges. According to Wikipedia, Seidler located the son of Lionel Logue, the speech therapist who helped King George VI with his stammering. The son, Valentine Logue, was a retired brain surgeon who was eager to share the work of his father, but there was one caveat: He had to receive written authorization from the Queen Mother. After reaching out to her, the Queen's secretary wrote back and politely requested he cease work on the project during her lifetime. In 2005, Seidler decided to pick up where he left off.

Fast forward six years, and that brings us to the moment when Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin, two winners themselves, uttered the phrase that people who stutter have been waiting a lifetime for. "And the Oscar goes to...David Seidler, for "The King's Speech." Within 30 seconds, every member of the NSA Nation who was on Facebook immediately started to post congratulatory messages. "You are my hero," one young woman said. Another one said simply, "He did it!" But there was one more moment, and to quote Whitney Houston, it was one moment in time: "I accept this award on behalf of all the stutterers throughout the world. We have a voice, we have been heard, thanks to you, the Academy." I ran outside in a flash, while my parents had an incredibly bewildered look on their face. " I started my car, and drove up and down the street, honking in pure delirium and sheer joy. But the night was just getting started. Best Director? Check. Best Actor, Colin Firth? Yes. Best Picture? Damn Skippy!

There can be no doubt that Seidler's words have resonated with everyone who stutters. Yes, we have a voice. There is not any reason why we should not be heard. If you scroll onto my Facebook page, you'll notice that where the personal picture spot is, there's a poster of "The King's Speech." I think it's safe to say that photo is going to remain there forever.

I have a good friend and fellow person who stutters who also runs her own blog, "Make Room For The Stuttering" (you can find it at who recently posed an interesting question about the movie, and the title says it all: "What Happens When They Forget?" After I started reading it, I realized everything she said is on point. To quote her verbatim, "We can't complacently ride the coattails of this movie." Truer words have never been said. When I saw that line, I couldn't help but think of the movie "Schindler's List." Steven Spielberg has stated time and again in interviews that this movie is the most personal to him, because many of those Holocaust survivors are dying off and their stories go with them. Despite the fact that the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC is a living testament to that atrocity, there are ignorant people who continue to deny it happened, saying it was a conspiracy or some other nonsensical statement. Well, "The King's Speech" is in a similar vein in the sense that we MUST continue to advocate and empower each other, and those future SLPs as well. We cannot allow anyone else to do that for us. Our stories need to be told. And there is proof of that-more people who stutter are doing public speaking. I absolutely LOVE that!

What "The King's Speech" did on Oscar night was fire a shot for stuttering awareness heard around the world. I like using that phrase because it rings. There are good shots, like this one. There can also be shots that tear a nation apart, like the shot that started the Civil War at Fort Sumter, near Charleston, S.C.

But this shot can be crystal clear. All Hail The King!

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, February 19, 2011

Steven from the Long Island Stuttering Block!

Hello everyone,

I hope the middle of February finds each one of you doing very well. The winds are howling with glee on Long Island, and for those of you who feel like this year has been very trying, I wanted to share something special with you. This is something I have never ever done, but sometimes there are divine moments of inspiration that strike you and it can come at the most random of times.

The New York City metropolitan area has been home to many a dynamic performer. Most recently, a young woman named Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, who is better known as Lady Gaga (from Yonkers, right over the Bronx County-Westchester County line) and Jennifer Lopez, who also brought the boogie-down Bronx flavor to the West Coast where she was a Fly Girl on FOX-TV's "In Living Color" and later a singer with hits like "If You Had My Love" and her anthem, "Jenny From the Block."

Well, with credit to Ms. Lopez, I decided to do my own little tweaking and create a song/poem of my own. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did creating it. And now, for your reading pleasure, I give you....Steven from the Long Island Stuttering Block!

Don't be scared by the vocal spasms that I got,
Because I'm Steven Kaufman from the NSA's Long Island Stuttering Block,
Some days I have a little, other times a lot,
But my fellow people who stutter know where I come from (Strong Island!)

Don't be scared by the vocal spasms that I got,
Because I'm Steven Kaufman from the NSA's Long Island Stuttering Block,
Some days I have a little, other times a lot,
But my fellow people who stutter know where I come from (Strong Island!)

From stretching to easy onset to airflow as a fix
Struggling to understand why my voice locks and dips
I stayed focused as the putdowns and insults entered in
I am genuine and you know I told you
I am real with my friends, from Cali to Kansas to Ohio to Tennessee
It's just me being me: never unoriginal, don't judge or bully me
Because my passion and enthusiasm is what you see

Don't be scared by the vocal spasms that I got,
Because I'm Steven Kaufman from the NSA's Long Island Stuttering Block,
Some days I have a little, other times a lot,
But my fellow people who stutter know where I come from (Strong Island!)

Don't be scared by the vocal spasms that I got,
Because I'm Steven Kaufman from the NSA's Long Island Stuttering Block,
Some days I have a little, other times a lot,
But my fellow people who stutter know where I come from (Strong Island!)

I never imagined in my wildest dreams I could be this
Resurrecting myself from the self-imposed darkness of a verbally confusing mess
With NSA Nation I've grown up and lived so much
For the first time I do what I want and say everything and I love it
I always put NSA Nation first and foremost
And being a member gives you every right to boast.

Dedicated to all the members of the NSA Nation, who are the driving force in my life.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

You Gotta Have Heart!

Hello everyone,

As the midway point of what has been a truly rough winter (and one that I particularly enjoy), there's an undeniable excitement that has invaded the New York metropolitan area, as well as all over the country. Spring training is coming, the time when we all eagerly await another season of the boys of summer, hot dogs, and the program hawkers who make this game what it is. Yet we also take time to reflect on what has changed.

I remember reading a few days ago that one of my favorite pitchers for the New York Yankees, Andy Pettitte, decided to call it a career. At the farewell press conference, he succinctly said all he needed to. "My heart just isn't in the game anymore," he stated, as he was looking forward to returning to Texas and spending time with his wife and family. In the days that followed, I intently listened to WFAN, which is one of the biggest all-sports radio stations, as the lines lit up with callers expressing admiration for what he accomplished. Even those he played against grudgingly had to admit what he meant to the game, and the words that were often tossed out frequently included "heart" and "competitor."

I never used to know what having a heart was all about. People mention the word "heart" and the first thing that comes to mind is what keeps you alive. Sure, that's true. But what does having heart mean? Is it character? Is it empathy? Is it a desire to see what you're really made of?

For me, when I think of having a heart, the first thing that comes to mind is a realization. I wake up every day and thank the world that someone up there recognizes I can contribute so many things to make the world better for people who stutter. I think that having a heart makes you care a great deal for others, but you see that caring reflected in different ways.

As someone who stutters, but also one who does recognize that stuttering is a disability and presents me with a unique set of challenges, my heart has shown me that caring is more than saying words of encouragement. It's about knowing how to conduct yourself around other people and knowing that others deserve basic respect. Having heart is about learning to share with yourself, and even more than that, knowing that we all owe it to everyone who stutters to set the best example we can.

You gotta have heart......and I hope you do.

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, January 31, 2011

Mr. Warhol, I'm ready for my fifteen minutes...and I am using them to help others!

Hello everyone,

I would like to say that is a wonderful thrill for me to return to blogging, which is one of the best things I have in my life-it's more than a journal, offers more pleasure than a respite, and above all else, shows that there is a world out there full of hope and dreamers who stutter, and they know every day is another chance to make things happen, regardless of who they are or where they are going in their life.

I was out for a long walk one day and suddenly the phrase "slightly ahead of his/her time" popped into my head. Throughout history, you can probably count on one hand the number of times this could be applied. It could be an average person with a brilliant idea, an artist who is a visionary and see things no one else could, or a CEO with a broad plan to make the company better. When I was an undergraduate journalism major at Long Island University, I would have never suspected it, but one of my communications professors, Dr. Jackson (again, names have been changed) was one of them. I remember he was lecturing about the Internet and how many changes would come abound as a result, and he said "Mark my words: In five years, the cable companies will be knocking down your door to offer you high-speed access." How right he was. But on the opposite end of the range we have someone who epitomizes being ahead of time: Andy Warhol, the renowed pop artist, and his personal philosophy, being paraphrased, which is "Everyone gets their fifteen minutes of fame."

In December, the Long Island chapter of the National Stuttering Association was interviewed by a freelance reporter from Newsday, which is the main daily newspaper in the Long Island suburbs. We had four members present, among them myself, and three others of varying ages. This was the brainchild of one of our members, and we were going to share our experiences about stuttering and the movie "The King's Speech," which was continuing its steamrolling with winning many awards and accolades. I cannot stress this enough, that if you are a person who stutters, or an SLP, this is a movie you MUST see. You will do yourself a great disservice if you don't. After we spent two hours with the reporter, we were informed the following month that our article was going to be a full-page story in the Long Island Life section of the Sunday newspaper. A photographer came to my house and took several photos of me, as she did for others who were featured in the story. I was told the article would run Jan. 16, and as is my dad's custom, we all go out to the local diner on Saturday night, and many times they will carry a special early edition. When my dad opened up the paper, I ran immediately toward the Long Island Life section, and my jaw froze. I was featured on the cover under the headline "The Face Of Stuttering."

I really didn't know what to say, but my mom knew exactly what to do. She started calling everyone she knew, and sure enough, word began to spread. In fact, I walked into the local deli to pick up dinner one weeknight, and the waitress who knows I am a regular said, "Here's the local celebrity!" I tried to downplay it, stating that this article will be benefit everyone who stutters. As I always do when I speak, I try to include examples of other people who do amazing work. That is the crux of the NSA. We are special people, who can do spectacular things when we tap into the potential we have.

These days, it seems like everyone is getting their fifteen minutes, and it's not always for the best reasons. An elected official is caught taking money he (or she) couldn't have. A trade organization is angry because a contract was not passed, and they vow to ruin everyone else's lives until they get want. Maybe Andy Warhol was right. We all get fifteen minutes. How we use them, whether it is to help or hurt, is up to us-and no one else.

Every time I read the article, I am reminded of a classic line from the movie "Sunset Boulevard," which was revived on Broadway a few years ago with Glenn Close. Norma Desmond, the fallen starlet states "I am BIG, it's the pictures that got small." Well, there's no better way I can end this posting of my blog with this statement: "I am but one small person doing what I can to change the world for people who stutter. It's the National Stuttering Association that is big."

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

Friday, January 14, 2011

Meet Toledo, a city on the Maumee.....

Good afternoon everyone,

As we begin to creep ever so close to the next National Stuttering Association conference, one of the things that I relish the most is doing research and reading up on the culture of the state and metropolitan area I will be in. I enjoyed learning about Ohio and the unique aspects of the state. For example, you might enjoy devouring JoJo potatoes, which are apparently very popular at pizza places here-they are quartered potatoes rolled in the same flour as the broasted or pressure fried chicken and then fried in a pressure cooker. (Good luck getting that elsewhere). However, you never know what kind of things you will find that could inspire you to write about stuttering. And for this edition of my blog, I want to talk about.....Toledo.

A city located on the Maumee River very close to the border of Michigan in Western Ohio, Toledo is home to a sports team called the Walleye. It's a minor league hockey team affiliated with the Detroit Red Wings, and it is in the East Coast Hockey League. Most people hear that, and just think, "Well, it's just another team. Why should I be interested?" Well, this little nugget of information happened to catch my eye. According to a piece in The Hockey News from Jan. 17, 2011, the team is operated by a nonprofit organization and the fans will have to pay the cost of running the team, with all the revenue going toward the mortgage on the rink. As the director of public relations, Jason Griffin, said in the story, "They all feel like they have a stake in it. Fans come to the rink just because it's the place to be."

For the longest time, I felt like I was owned by stuttering. When you are growing up, it's kind of hard not to feel that way. You want to do something specific. You want to go up to someone and say hello, but you're frightened of what's going to happen. So you see them in the mall, and nod at them instead of going up and talking to them. You want to tell someone that they aren't helping you by finishing your sentences, but yet you feel that it is just not possible. It took me several SLPs and a lot of frustrations to get to the point where I can say, "Stuttering doesn't own me, but rather I own my stuttering. And I will dictate what happens from here on out."

The National Stuttering Association is very unique in the sense that we, too, own a piece of it, and it's very important that we develop that to its fullest fruition. I am always acknowledged and I often hear "But you do so much." I am a person who stutters, but also, I am an individual owner-of my feelings, of my goals, and how I conduct myself in relationships with my peers and others.

When I look back on the first time I did an open microphone session at an NSA conference, it feels like a moment frozen in time. Here I was, just some scared twentysomething from a suburb of New York, who had traveled 3,000 miles from home to be with others who stutter and were running the gamut of emotions. On that day, even if I didn't realize it, I started to become an owner. An owner of a new life that I could create. There will be setbacks. There will be times when I wonder if things will get better. But I know they will. Because being an owner means that you have ultimate control of your stuttering. And that is more powerful than anything else.

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, January 4, 2011

The ball dropped.....and life goes on!

Good evening everyone,

The phrase "bucket list" became a hot staple of the modern day dictionary a few years ago when the movie "The Bucket List" hit theaters. The "list" refers to special achievements and personal goals we want to recognize in our life before our time on earth is finished. And for many people, they had the chance to cross one item off that list just a few days ago. Some travel from half an hour away in the Long Island suburbs, others come from halfway across the world for sixty seconds of radiance, dazzle, and glitter-yes, the Ball dropping in Times Square in front of a million or two people. No one cares if the person standing next to you is sick, or if you haven't used the bathroom in seven hours. It's all about that one moment.

My New Year's Eve was spent at a party hosted by a fellow member of the National Stuttering Association. She stutters very mildly, and there were three of us total who attended-myself, "Heather," and "Stacey." (All names changed to protect the identities). I decided to bring back the tradition of getting all dressed up on this holiday-I wore a tuxedo with matching blue tie and cummerbund. But I also made the choice to completely let myself go and stutter freely. It was the first time in my life I had ever done that.

I need to explain what I mean by the term "stuttering freely." I am always adamant and open about the fact that I stutter. I enjoy talking about it with close friends as well as people I meet for the first time. However, I make a strong effort to try and use the techniques I have learned in speech therapy-controlled breathing, etc. to try and be somewhat fluent. When I get excited, for me what I notice is that I will just blurt out whatever comes to mind, regardless of how it comes out-and then once I realize I'm doing that, I force myself to collect my thoughts and try to practice my speech in a real-life situation. I was talking to the date of one of the guests, and if you heard me, you would have seen that it took me thirty seconds to get out one sound. If my speech therapist heard that, he probably would have cringed.

We see the New Year as a time of hope. A time to put the past away and relish what the future could be. I left this party early because I had to make the 12:31 train back to Port Washington. (The joys of mass transit, being bound to a schedule). As I was walking back on Broadway, I could experience the joy that 2011 was here. Air horns were blaring. Voices screaming with glee, strangers yelling from their apartment windows "Happy New Year!" I even saw a church choir outside with prayer candles greeting me as I walked past the mountains of snow that had yet to be removed. I could hear the sonic boom of fireworks going off with every block I passed. And still, there were very few public celebrations in Astoria that night. People were going about their business, seeing the clock has passed midnight and it was a day like any other-a Saturday, a chance to continue progress.

I do not know what the New Year will bring. I do have some goals I'd like to meet: getting a job in the federal government, attending the NSA conference in Fort Worth, Texas. But for the first time, maybe it's good I do not have any resolutions. The only thing I know is that I'll wake up and the sun will rise tomorrow. It shall be a day when I can once again refocus my energies on promoting the NSA and making this world better for people who stutter. "The King's Speech" has done a great deal for stuttering awareness, but we can do more. We will make our lives better, and we'll change some lives in the process.

Happy New Year...may it bring you everything you desire. And if you are wondering if there's anything you can do to help your stuttering, go to and check it out. And tell them I sent 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.