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My Story is Not Unique

and that's why it must be told

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The Power in Storytelling

I’ve read a few essays recently about Livejournal and the role it played in each author’s life respectively. I was initially curious. Why the sudden surge of nostalgia? Then I started writing one myself. Not only did those other posts bring back something I’d forgotten was such an important part of my life, but I was grounded immediately by being connected to so many people in a time when the world is at once so small and so dissipated. Troubled childhoods, bullying, trouble with peers, being outcasts, not feeling like a single person in the world understood them until Livejournal told them they weren’t alone. I didn’t know these people, but there they were, each telling my story.

My story is not unique, and that’s why it must be told. For many of us, Livejournal and sites like it were our first opportunity to tell our stories and have them be heard, and that experience alone was sometimes enough to make us feel like everything was going to be alright. We supported each other. We learned from each other. We validated each other. Sifted from the posts full of song lyrics and every day annoyances that plague any college student were the stories of me finding and losing myself over and over again. Stuffed between pages of early adult angst were the ingredients of who I am today, and she’s a beautifully powerful woman.
As Livejournal gave way to social media and the world began to share every second of our lives with each other, we began to tell our true stories less and less. Sure, most people know I had an exceptionally good sushi roll for lunch, but how many know about the resurgence my marriage is experiencing and what it means for my life? How many know about my recent deep depression? How many know about JUST how important Good Girl was to me and why I’ve turned my focus in this direction? In sharing everything we’ve begun to share nothing.

Livejournal taught us why telling our stories was important. Good Girl reminded me why my story is important. My Story is Not Unique has a goal….to show the world that every story is important. Every story is a life.

The Road to Good Girl

When I started the journey back in April, I had no clue what a trip I’d really be taking, nor that I’d come out of it with a new passion, a new tribe, and a new project.   What I did know was that my story was pleading to be told and the world was craving it just as badly.

It wasn’t easy, nor was juggling work, commitments,  and unforseen hardships that seemed to befall our family like a curse.  At first I felt alone, isolated even from the other Ones for a litany of made up reasons, but as Good Girl became a tangible reality so did my place on this team. As things began to fall into place, so did a realization. This is what I do; this is who I am.  A teacher, a counselor, a care giver, whether in my spiritual community,  the poly community,  or elsewhere.  The missing piece has always been my story.  

When I started building My Story is Not Unique I knew it was important, but I couldn’t begin to fathom just how important until Good Girl took the stage.  I blushed and smiled politely over and as people thanked me for my story and commended me for having the strength and courage to do so.  I knew this show had forever changed my life, and conceptually I knew it would touch some people who saw the show, but I had no idea what kind of energy and emotion would come from my audience as they sent me their support and took what they needed from the moment.  The power these people saw within me was breathtaking for me. 

What they didn’t see were the times I wanted to give up, the breakdown I’d had on that very stage just days before,  or the tears I cried when my family missed opening night, because life doesn’t stop for something like this, and sometimes life has other plans.   What they didn’t see were the fresh wounds by the old scars, the issues exhumed, and the half a dozen times I contemplated killing myself because I truly didn’t feel I had, or ever would, actually heal.  What they didn’t see was every time the Power of One tribe picked me up, held me close, and reminded me why I needed to keep going, the power they all gave me to merely be in the moment. 

How many people feel this way on a daily basis? How many people don’t have that community to help them get back up? How many people feel like falling is the worst that can happen?  This is why our stories are so important.  They bring us together, and together we are stronger than anything life can throw at us.

On the momentum of Good Girl and all the places I want to take this show and all my yet untold stories I began my Year of Here, a year dedicated not only to being present in my spirit but being defiantly so in the face of whatever life brings.  Last year I contemplated suicide more times than I have in almost a decade, but something kept me here, and I am determined to make that worth something.   I am determined to still be here next year, and so much further on my journey.

Monica Day

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I have so many stories…don’t we all? Am I the girl who lost her virginity without consent at age 14? The woman who became a mother at 31? The woman who has been divorced twice..and still believes there is a partner out there who will be just right?

Am I the businesswoman? The spoken word poet? The professional coach? The thought leader who wants to turn the world on its head?

I am layers of story. I am a story club sandwich on rye with extra mayo.

Today, my story is that my family is riddled with cancer. My mother survived breast cancer. My father didn’t survive lymphoma. My brother didn’t survive a brain tumor. My sister-in-law is looking pancreatic cancer straight in the eye and saying, “Fuck you!” and we don’t yet know where that story will end.

What makes our cells go rogue? How can we adapt to this mutation? How can we dodge this bullet? Or meet it with grace and power?

How can I assure my kids that I’m not next? My oldest daughter has recurring nightmares of my death since my brother died. I just lost a good friend to mistaken gunfire in Egypt. He was a shaman, and a gift to all who knew him. Death is not choosy.

My story today is that I’m alive. And tomorrow, I may not be. And I am not afraid. Most of the time.
I know my story needs to be heard because we are all living in the face of death. Most of us have been touched by death. All of us eventually will be. How do we make peace with this relationship between this world and the next? How do we live fully? How do we greet our death when it comes? When we can look death in the eye, we can live forever.
Who are you now?: I am a mother, a poet, a lover, an artist, a coach, a warrior, a goddess, an instigator, an entrepreneur, a liar and a cheat, an angel in disguise, an inhaler of breath, an idea waiting to happen, a writer, a particle of God.

Brad Landon: The Exquisite Need for Touch

I am a touch-deprived man, or it feels that way at any rate, and have been for most of my life.  My sons never had to ask twice for physical attention from me and I was very aware of purposefully providing it freely from the day they were born.  There are such strong memories for me of holding them and being physically close with them on occasion after occasion.  This is not to say that I met all their physical needs, however, for as I think about it, I never was one who was super comfortable with male “horse play” “rough housing”, which lots of active boys love.  It was always unsafe to me – I couldn’t be sure where it would go when I was younger – and experience from my history told me that when I am having trouble reading the “signs”, then that is when bad things happen.

At this stage of my life I keep finding myself asking the question of why is touch so important to me – or actually more accurately these days, why is the “lack of” meaningful, deep, connected touch such a strong voice within me.  And likely as large a part of the question is why does this need seem so much more connected to male touch than female touch.

I do know that, upon the advice of some friends, I read parts of Gary Chapman’s books on the Five Love Languages shortly after my separation from Tucker.  Even though I have tried, I can never get through the entire books (one for married couples and the other book for singles) – they are a struggle for me.  But in doing the tests to determine my love language, I did discover that I had two almost equally rated top languages, and one was touch.

This need for touch could be primal for me and stem from the beginning of my very existence.  I think watching the pregnancies and births of my two sons gives me some clues.  Tucker would comment on how different each was even in utero, Nathaniel being quiet and snuggly and Alex being spontaneous and restless, which also was the way that they nursed as babies.  But one of the big gifts of life for me was experiencing their births.  There was this moment with both of their births that was almost identical and incredibly beautiful and intrinsically soothing to me.  After they were born and a very quick once over by the medical people, they would place him, naked, on his mother’s chest, also naked, and there in that moment there would be this magic as both boys calmed after the trauma of birth, once again hearing the familiar, but faint sound, that they had lived with for nine months, and a sense of familiarity.  It brought instant tears both times in that moment, and I can easily conjure tears whenever I think of it in the years ever since.

I was a big baby for my family – 9 pounds, three and three quarters ounces – and I have a big physical-sized head to boot.  I was the heaviest of all four of my mother’s babies.  It was a difficult birth for her and she hemorrhaged, losing a lot of blood.  As I understand it, they had to begin a blood transfusion very soon after I was born, and even with that she had issues, passing out and hitting her head the first time she tried to get out of bed after my birth.  So I am pretty sure, I didn’t have that same experience with my mother that my sons had with their mother.  One can imagine the chaos in the hospital room and it was the 1950’s when births were very clinical, medical procedures.

I also know from my two sons that very young children equate touch and physical connection with safety and, in their innocence, ask for it often from the adults around them that they trust and whom they feel love them.  I could see the sense of confusion with my sons when they tried to get that reassurance physically from someone, and the person was uncomfortable with providing it for some reason.  I remember a clear example of Nathaniel doing this with my brother-in-law, and my brother-in-law ignoring Nate’s gestures that usually got him a reward of physical connection, so Nate even though very very little, kept trying different approaches.  I saw the confusion for Nate and the resistance growing stronger with my brother-in-law, so I “rescued” Nate to relieve the confusion.  He literally melted into my embrace – willingly and thankfully – my guess feeling like he was safe and his world restored.

So as I look at it, I entered into the world of my family as the second child, to soon be followed by my brother 16 months later, so I am only five months old when my mother realizes she is pregnant again.  My older sister, Debbie, was two and a half years older than me, and had been the apple of the eye of particularly my mother’s family as the first born grandchild.  She also took after my father, so she was physically pretty and had an out-going personality.  And my father, he was emotionally and physically absent, so there was a limited amount of him to go around.  Debbie was a daddy’s girl from the beginning and absorbed whatever physical interaction my dad would provide.  It is even obvious in family photos of the time.

I have very strong sensual memories from the few times that Dad would gather there three of us in my parents’ big bed and tell us stories before we were sent off to our own beds for the night.  I am not sure the stories were all that interesting, but I was entranced and the stories seemed vivid and fabulous.  However, even though I don’t remember the stories, I do remember the physicality of us all being bunched and grouped together with Dad under covers as he told us these stories, and on one night in particular, this was while a rain storm swirled around outside the bay window off to my left.

I just longed for – and on some level still do – that loving male touch.  Instead, it seems like what I got much more of from him was emotionally unstable, physical outbursts that result in pain or physical harm either towards me or those around me.

And today, what that means is a difficulty in getting that need meant when I have been indoctrinated by society to fear a male need to be touched and held by another male.  Not being able to understand that need on any other level, I and society want to immediately jump to the place that this is sexual desire or need.  I remember seeing with envy how boys on wrestling teams during a tournament I attended when my son was on a high school team, would just lay together on the floor in a relaxed intertwined way – it wasn’t sexual at all.  It never was like that when I was in high school, so I am glad some things are changing.

Recently, I spent an incredibly meaningful time with a dear friend, with whom we both have shared each others stories deeply through the years.  It was in his home town where we walked the very streets, parks, and neighborhoods where the stories of his life, that I had heard before, were now physically surrounding us.  It pumped up the sharing to an even a deeper level and we both could feel an energy shift – in a powerful way – particularly on his part.  It was a wonderful time, but when we separated, I felt this melancholy set it and a restlessness in my body.  I got home, did a very long workout at the gym – just because it felt like the right thing to do and that workout went marvelously well as I had all of this energy.  It only occurred to me the next day when the melancholy continued on some level, but now with physical exhaustion, that my body had had a need while we two friends were together sharing in that connected way, that out of habit I had shelved, not even consciously in the moment, and hadn’t addressed.  I needed to have physical connection with him considering the depth of sharing.  This didn’t seem like a sexual need or connection, but what my body visualized was us laying out in the sun, shirts off, skin to skin – perhaps a head on a chest – totally safe and relaxed – being connected with body and nature to integrate the depth of our verbal sharing.

What I have discovered in the past few years is some remarkable conversations with men my age, both straight and LGBTQ, where we have explored that need and desire for male touch in conversation.  Often it seems to have a base in very early childhood and not having had the father connection that was vital, or sometimes it comes from the misguided pain of a man who intuits that need on our part and inappropriately takes advantage of that innocence in damaging ways.  And then many of us turn all of this inward on ourselves by seeing ourselves as unworthy of the very male touch we desire.  I have to say I have been very blessed to have men come into my life with whom I have had incredible interactions through dance in forums like InterPlay and 5Rhythms, where after wearing down the resistance barriers, we sometimes let ourselves connect with another and truly feel the energy that is there for both of us.  As I said, a gift.

Today I am a physically older man than I wish I were, but happily satisfied with my wisdom age.  Still a way to go, but feeling really vital and more connected and grounded than perhaps at any other time in my life.  Lots of growth yet to happen, but also a renewed strength to help with that growth.

I feel my story needs to be told to validate my and other men’s primal need for touch by other men and affirm that we don’t need to interpret that always as being sexual nor have that need filled with shame.  Touch is a natural and exquisite need of all humans and helps us to thrive and shine.

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Brad Landon is presenting his one man show, The Winning Sperm, in NYC this December as a part of The Power of One.

Why My Story is Not Unique

It only seems fitting to start with my own story, so here goes. 

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I was not supposed to be born.  My mom was advised, then warned, that having me would have severe consequences to her health.  Being a pregnant diabetic in the early 1980’s was generally not seen as a blessing, and it was hell on her body, but my mother was a force to be reckoned with.  My first breath was an act of survival.

I’m not going to tell you today about threatening phone calls from drug dealers, what it was like for a child with diabetes in the 90s, or losing my mom just before my 13th birthday.  I’m not going to tell you about rape, leaving college, or struggling without medical insurance or a way to feel myself.  I’m not going to tell you about the heartbreak of losing a child and giving up on every trying again, how many times I’ve faced homelessness, or what it’s like to live with an illness most doctors don’t believe exists.  These are big fires I have risen from like a phoenix.  No, today I talk about surviving the slow embers that burn beneath the surface everyday, the fires you don’t always see.  These are the fires I’ve survived alone.

I cannot remember a day when I didn’t question why I was still breathing, or why I was worth the sacrifice it took for me to enter this world at all.  There has not been a day I haven’t been terrified to look ahead.

I was 5 the first time the idea of suicide crossed my mind, 9 the first time I planned out how, and since then I have made countless attempts, both planned and unplanned.  I have opened car doors on the freeway and laid in bed at night wondering how much it would scar my husband to wake up next to my lifeless body.

I am in constant physical excruciating pain.  I constantly question my ability to be a responsible adult, watching friends and family buy homes and have babies while I wonder if I’ll be able to eat this week.  My schedule makes it impossible to plan a family or settle anywhere too long, and even my marriage feels like a long distance relationship.  I freshly survive my depression and anxiety every day I don’t give up and every time I put on a smile and breathe through the pain.  I survive every time I reach out instead of walling myself in.  Every birthday that passes is not another year closer to death, it’s another year farther from the death I’ve felt inside my entire life.  This.  This is the only thing I’ve ever felt I couldn’t push through.

I have been described as a survivor, asked how I do it.  The simple answer is, “I don’t have a choice.”

What has  been my choice is how my life portrays me today.  At this moment I am a poet writing and performing a one person show.  At this moment I am a writer revising my first novel.  At this moment I am a flight attendant working my dream career and taking care of my family, allowing my husband to follow his dream and start his own business.  I have worked as a teacher at the zoo.  I have earned my Master level as a Reiki healer.  I have learned to craft, brew, and sew, and recently I was able to show off my own cosplay designs at Wizard World.  These things, and so much more, are how I want to be remembered, not for having walked through the tragedies of life and continuing to breathe.  Surviving is the easy part.  Living, well, that’s where it gets tricky.

My family has been exceptionally supportive of me.  We have defined what love, marriage, and family mean to us, and both the polyamorous and kink communities have helped us through some of our most trying moments.  I have built a web of tribe (my Ohana) across the country, and they have ensured I feel secure.  I am learning to feel worthy of love, to be present in life, and to trust my spirit in the hands of my Ohana when I can’t hold it up myself.

This is why I started My Story is Not Unique.  So many times I’ve felt alone.  So many times I’ve thought “how can ANYONE possibly understand this?” and I have found that everyone I meet has these same thoughts because everyone has a story. Through telling these stories we stop feeling isolated and start stepping out into the world.

My Story is about community.  It’s not about coming together under the same experience, but coming together to share our experience and celebrate the spirit alive in each of us.  We are not connected by our tragedies.  We are connected by the fact that we have chosen to live our lives on our terms!

Jennifer Clifford is performing her one person show Good Girl in NYC in December as a part of The Power of One Program. For more information, follow her on Facebook at Jennifer L Clifford or go to The Power of One.

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