Reflections on the 2016 National Stuttering Association conference

Early yesterday morning I woke hung-over and exhausted on the 7th floor of the Hyatt Regency hotel in Atlanta, Ga.  I found it nearly impossible to repack my suitcase despite the fact that I had not really acquired much new material substance during my 5 days there.  I decided to go drink the biggest coffee I could find and spend a little time journaling before I made a hasty retreat home–  hopefully free from any tearful goodbyes.

As stepped onto the glass elevator I noticed the lack of purple lanyards and nametags that had come to represent a stranger I could talk to. I no longer could tell who would take the time to hear what I had to say, so instead I looked down into the virtually empty lobby. My hope was to take my coffee and sit in the same chair I’d sat in on the morning when I arrived. I thought it might help me remember my first  apprehensive feelings and begin to process the whirlwind that I’d just experienced. I felt just like my suitcase and I wasn’t sure how to even begin writing with so many thoughts, emotions, ideas and conversations crammed in my brain.

When I had arrived 5 days prior I’d tried not to have any particular expectations. As part of mindfulness, I was trying to just experience without judgment, but I had been given a menu of possible outcomes with terms such as ‘life changing’, ‘overwhelming’, and ‘liberating.’   So I sat in the lobby and waited for my friend Carl to come down from his room– Carl, like so many of the people I was about to meet, was someone I knew through technology, but had never met in person.  I couldn’t help feeling nervous.

Thinking back through each day it’s difficult to even remotely explain the sense of community and common purpose that filled each and every room and meeting place. Despite the variety of ages and nationalities, there was a palpable sense of unity and love, much like an enormous hug.

Now that I’m home and unpacking, I have found tickets for the aquarium and bowling that went unused because it was more important to have spontaneous plans with friends sharing meals, hanging out at bars or just walking around.  I will forever keep close to my heart this collection of conversations and unique voices.   Talking with other people who stutter has now become my favorite thing to do. I had no idea you could spend just 5 days with people and end up loving them as if you’d known them your whole life.

I realize as this is getting longer and longer, that I haven’t even written about the workshops.  There were so many great presenters, but the ones that stand out were not about how to stutter easier or even about our personal stuttering journeys, but about history and solidarity and the next steps. They were about digging deep into your soul and telling your story. They were not mere presentations of material to be stored away, but means to ignite and generate new ideas and actions.  In my heart and mind the conference is not really over. There is so much work to be done.

And that menu of possible outcomes? Yes, It’s all true but so much more.

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