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 there....it's been known to happen!
Excuse #3: "I got better things to spend my money on....like 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 time..no, 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 http://www.westutter.org 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.