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.