group 7! – MEN!!! (nope, not women) men: raw. honest. loved.

ashfinalallenfinalnickfinalianfinaljoshuafinal

Men.
My eyes have been opened.
As I was prepping to leave for this particular group, my boyfriend’s words to me were this: “The only advice I have for you tonight is, don’t be surprised.” I didn’t quite know how to respond to this, except to admit that I actually had no expectations. In all honesty, with each group that has taken place, I have learned to have no expectations. Things seem to go along the same, and things seem to go along different. I learn things with every group and I was MORE than ready to learn things with this one…and learn, I did.

When I started this project, it was with the primary intention that women discuss insecurities, stop with the trash-talking and tearing each other down, and instead, start building one another up.
Soon after the first group, I began to receive inquiries from both men and women as to when I would be holding a men’s group.
A men’s group? Why would I do a men’s group? Men aren’t known for trash-talking and tearing one another down, right? Men solve their problems, generally physically, right?? Honestly, that’s where my ignorant brain naturally went.

Well, as the project continued, I really began to appreciate what so many participants have mentioned as being beneficial: that it is liberating. That it promotes discussion among families and friends. That we are reminded that we are not alone. That our insecurities lose their power.

So, my thought then became, why NOT do a men’s group? Even as I was unaware of entirely what it would achieve, it was worth a try. As I began to think about it more and more, I began seeing the topic of “manliness”, what it means to “Be A Man” appear around me more and more. I found myself watching the trailer for the new documentary from the team behind MissRepresentation – a new film called “The Mask You Live In” , which addresses societal pressures put on young boys and, in turn, carried into adulthood…pressures to “MAN UP!”, to not be sensitive (“What a pussy!”), to not be emotional (“Men don’t cry! Get over it!”), to BE A MAN.

After viewing that trailer, I was sold. This needed to be addressed. And so, I began to seek out the men that had inquired about the potential of a men’s group, along with a few men whom I just saw as being brave, honest humans.

Group 7 was born. I knew that a men’s group would be received well in general, especially since the majority following this project are women, and what woman doesn’t want to know what the men are thinking? But, I also didn’t want any potential for negativity about men being vulnerable before we even started. So, we tried to keep the eventuality of this group really quiet.

One thing I can tell you after this group…men are more sensitive, emotional, and introspective than society seems to give them credit for. They often desire to express themselves as gentle and caring, but this is pretty much beat out of them by our culture…leaving us with a world of violence and anger. Because that’s what is acceptable. That sort of machismo and swaggering arrogance ends up being mistaken for bravery. To me, and to most, I think, that sort of braggadocio is equal to douchebaggery (it is a word in its own right and serves a purpose here, so, it is staying).

True bravery is honesty.

True bravery is these five men.

These men admitted, as the majority of the women participants have, that their participation in this project initially had them anxious, “really fucking nervous”, and apprehensive. Not knowing what to expect. But, in their words, they found the project bold and daring. They felt it challenged the preconceived notion that it’s not acceptable for men to be vulnerable, open, and honest.

Here are some of their words on that topic of being vulnerable:

“The expectation is to “Nut up. Walk it off.” – Why can’t it be, “Let’s talk about why you feel this way. Let’s have a conversation’?”

When a man appears emotional, the response is, “Look at that pussy.” “Let’s continue to tear him down because that’s not what a man is. You’re not supposed to be weak.”

The resulting “lashing out in violence and the increasing suicide rate is because men don’t really talk about things…’I’m gonna be quiet about it. I’m gonna MAN UP.’ We’re supposed to internalize…just don’t talk about it…we don’t talk about it.”

They wanted to participate because they felt it would be “an interesting switch – it might change the context of what the original project was. Men are so different from women in regards to how they look at each other, how they treat other, how they expect behavior from each other. It’s entirely different. I thought the possibility for the unexpected was really, really interesting and I wanted to be a part of that.”

“Once you put something like this out there, it’s easier to diminish its power. Maybe it will be easier to not dwell on what is dissatisfying about myself.”

“I think it is a wonderful outlet…thought I could help shed some light on the male perspective. Wanted to be able to share that we are sensitive, we are caring, and that we can love each other just as much as anyone else.”

“I thought the men’s group would be really interesting – a different take on the whole thing…a completely different perspective. This broadened the horizons in a really interesting way – a more global perspective.”

And, so, they jumped in. And they were ready for discussion.
And discuss, we definitely did.

In preparation for these groups, I always do some online research.
According to the many articles on the internet, many of men’s insecurities have to do with the physical, just like women. Their hair, their bodies, how they perform sexually. Let me just mention that none of these things were mentioned in our discussions on this night. Why? I don’t know. Maybe they’re not an issue with these five guys? Maybe what they mentioned as their insecurities are much deeper and effecting than the physical self-image? Or maybe, as I suspected with the teen group that we did, these are still things that they don’t want to put out there for others to nitpick? Those are questions for these men. And ones that I didn’t broach…not because I am not interested…merely because I forgot, and there were so many other interesting things we were discussing.

Like…
* societal views about providing for a family
* feelings of disgust at one’s seemingly innate character
* feelings of inadequate intelligence
* feeling that one has made no impact on others
* feeling a failure

All of this discussion brought some seriousness, a lot of laughter, a lot of relating and understanding, and, yes, even tears. And when there were tears, there was no “Man Up!” spoken. There was no name-calling. There weren’t even expressions that conveyed anything close to those things. Rather, there were hugs. There was compassion. There were words spoken in reassurance. It was beautiful to witness and to be a part of.

And when these men heard the words that their loved ones wrote in about them, their expressions cracked. There was some lip-biting, some nervous laughter, some big smiles. There was vulnerability and there was appreciation.

I am indebted to these men for being so vulnerable and so open. You also will likely feel the same after reading all of this.

(Thank you, you five. I love each of you and I appreciate you so very much.)

Before you get into their stories, I leave you with some words from them about the evening in general…

“Nobody gives a shit about what makes you feel bad about you in your normal life, and quite justifiably, being a white male. But, in a room with people who are supporting you and who are interested in why you are feeling that way and interested in how you can move past it, I think that’s a major advantage in niche projects like this.”

“What surprised me was the openness – how willing people were to be personable and vulnerable and speak on terms with people we’ve never met before in a very open forum, as well as in a compassionate and caring way. I think it says a lot about what we are capable of as people.”

“This project was a really inspiring process. A way to connect with people in a very different way, and a very easy way. I would definitely recommend it for others – it was very liberating and definitely cool to be a part of.”

“Now I feel relieved. It’s nice to just get that out into space, about how I feel about myself, as I don’t always say exactly what I mean. I can give great advice, but sometimes I don’t listen to myself.”

“I think everyone should do this project. Any preconception you had about this project will probably be shattered and blown up into just the most amazing thing. It’s a really great experience. Tonight was a lot of fun…It brought a lot of perspective to everything as to what I can do and what I should do, as well as the fact that there are others, friends and family, who are supportive.”

“It’s good to get this out there, and if it can help other people, that’s good. Now, knowing how other people think about me, maybe I can bring that into my own self-identity.”

“I would recommend that others participate. It’s a great occasion to think about yourself and your place in the world. You realize that you’re not alone and that people love you…that’s it. Everything you think about yourself is really just you thinking it about yourself, getting too much into your own head.”

“I would like to see men more open and honest with each other…if you’re having trouble, your friends should be there for you. You should value your friendships on something deeper and not so vacuous. You should really mean it when you say that you are someone’s friend and that you love them…and it’s not just the beer talking.”

And now, meet Ash, Allen, Nick, Ian, and Josh…(and know that I am incredibly excited about the idea of more men’s groups…so, bring it on!)

Here is a video clip of some of the men’s responses to Josh succumbing to a little emotion…

ashinswAshley ~

“Since perhaps my mid-teens, and even more-so during my adulthood as I stumble across increasing self-awareness, I have considered myself to be a mostly dishonest, larcenous, opportunistic coward, and I fear that the people I love will at some point see through the curtain of practiced, semi-decent behavior that I have learned to use to distract them with. Being good is not reflexive for me. I still have to consider what “the right thing” is. During an extremely candid conversation with one of my oldest friends, we agreed that I was a rat-person – my natural state, without the positive influence of my loved ones, is one of running, hiding, stealing and raw self-preservation. These are not traits I admire in anyone.”

Ash’s friends and family:

“Ashley is a swell fellow… the swellest of fellows you’ll meet in this meadow. Ahead though, I will say that he is well put-together.
Ashley is a gentleman, a loving husband and father to his beautiful wife and children.
He is passionate of his artistries…his music. From Can to A.C… UK RnB… Completely unpredictable, however, and it will be researched and catalogued. Cliff Notes available after the session along with refreshments.
Have you seen any of his tattoo work?
I also just like to just hear Ash talk. It’s hypnotizing. Like a bass line to a Tricky song. Or a devil in Helsinki. Hypnotic and frenetic, calm and fantastic… and he can always make me laugh, and laugh fucking hard.
I love Ashley, for he is a great man, and my friend.” – Nick

“I met Ash years ago when he answered the door of Jamey’s house, looking like he just woke up from a nap. He was immediately friendly and lovable. Ash is one of the most enthusiastic, loyal, and devoted people I have ever met. He lights up a room with his joie de vivre. I am proud to be in the Hand Panther Fan Club. My husband has carried on a love-fest bromance with him for years, and it is nice to see how well Ash gets along with everyone in Jamey’s life. It’s not every man that can abide living with his wife’s ex, much less fully integrate that person into the family. He is ‘effing awesome. And you can take that to the bank! Hearts!” – Diana

“Alana,

1. Ashley loves…wife, stepchildren, family members & extended family, friends, & Orr. A special love was his late maternal grandmother, Rose. They had a special bond.
2. Ashley loves music of the alternative type. He collects albums & is very knowledgeable about music of this genre.
3. Ashley is extremely artistic & is learning the art of the tattoo.
4. Ashley most likely has a genius I-Q & an exceptional emotional I-Q.
5. Ashley has always liked to read. He retains what he reads.
6. Ashley once was an elementary school spelling champion!
7. Ashley (& Jamey) chose a wedding date that includes the numbers 666…
8. Ashley very much resembles his late maternal uncle Eddie A. Pettit.
9. Ashley gives great hugs!
10. Ashley once went by the nickname of “Deed”.
11. Ash’s middle name is Dean.
12. Ashley raises chickens in his back yard.” – Zella

“I don’t see Ashley often enough. He may not know it, but he has been one of my best friends since I met him in 2004 when he worked at a record store on 6th Avenue. My memory of that time is a little blurry, but what I remember is he accepted me coming into the store routinely, picking his brain about music and hanging out for WAY too long. I found him easily approachable, but I remember trying not to overstep my boundaries, so I would consciously spend a bunch of time looking through the racks and let him do his thing. I realize now that maybe I didn’t really need to do that – I think he probably enjoyed the fact that I asked him so much about music, and what was good, and what wasn’t, and what he recommended this week and why and what kind of music is THAT and wow they did WHAT for this record by the ocean lining up a bunch of microphones along the shore? Because Ash likes sharing his abundant enthusiasm. That is one of the many things I love about him. He has such an enthusiasm for life and art and music and fun and finding meaning in things, people, situations. I have often repeated to him something he said to me once: “Enthusiasm is important. It makes the world shiny.”

Like many of my friendships, music is more or less an entry point and common bond that translates into something much deeper. Ash has always been someone I’ve looked up to, but it never made for an uneven friendship even as I went through a lot of formative years, my twenties, with him and Jamey and the whole family. He always treated me with respect and kindness as I was kind of awkward and probably really obviously looking for direction in life and seeking new things, whatever they were, while figuring myself out. Ash has had enormous patience with me over the years.

Ash is a critical thinker – so intelligent and creative, good-humored and funny, gentle but no pushover, responsible but never a bore. Despite all of this, he is not at all arrogant or prideful. Rather, he seems humorously self-deprecating more often than not. I see most of these characteristics in his family life. From what I can tell, I think he loves his family more than anything. I mean, that’s as it should be, right? But, it is so clear with Ash. I remember shortly after he and Jamey got married, I was hanging out at the record store with him ’til he closed up shop. He got his bike and we parted ways outside. He said, “See ya, dude, I’m gonna go home and hang out with my wife!!” He was super excited. Pretty sure he still is.

Ash has taught me so much about how to be a loving, responsible, interesting, interested, thoughtful adult that isn’t afraid to be himself, but also isn’t afraid to change himself when he really should. He probably doesn’t realize that he taught me so many of these things but that’s because he doesn’t try to force others around, and all I had to do was be his friend and observe. Though we may not see each other often (lately), I can always count on him to be my friend. Ain’t nothin’ change.” – Joshua

“Hi Alana,

What is there to write about Ash? Well, first let this be said. He possesses a wonderful child like spirit and a loving heart. There are few who are as inclusive without some unseen or recognizable motive. Ash possesses a passion for music and creativity that is only challenged by the love he holds for his wife and family. He is an inspiring guy!

Thanks,
George”

“Every time I go out for Chinese food and look at the Chinese Zodiac placemat I am reminded of my friend Ash when I look at his birth year in the sign of the Monkey. Of course the positive traits of his Chinese Zodiac sign fit him to a “T”- intelligent, dignified, romantic, optimistic, quick-witted, sociable, and he has always been a motivator in the various projects we have undertaken together. And it’s only fitting that the year he was born the governing elemental sign was METAL!! He, too, has been like a brother to me, and I love him sincerely and dearly…” – Anthony

“To Ashley whom I love,

You are the most amazing person I have ever met. ferreals. You are the only person I have ever wanted to be around all the fucking time. Or even some of the time. Or any of the time ever. You have my favorite brain, my favorite laugh, my favorite dumb jokes, my favorite hands, my favorite…um…eyes.

Hey! I think you’re the best.

I miss you when you’re gone! Every morning I consider myself lucky to be waking up with you. Every day I consider myself lucky to be having lunch with you. Every evening I consider myself lucky to be climbing into our delightful bed with you. (The fact that you let me have the remote isn’t lucky; it’s just a testament to your sweet and giving nature.)

You are one of the most self-reflective, self-aware people I have ever known. (Despite your constant insistence it’s not true…) I see you looking into you, trying to consider things from all sides, genuinely trying to resolve issues within yourself and with others. It’s something I wish I consciously did more often.

You are an amazing dad. I see you with our kids. That is love. That is compassion. That is a desire to see someone do what you never could, and to have what you never had. You never wanted kids, then at 23 you were sucked into a ready-made family – you jumped in feet first and never looked back. They never doubted you for a second and you can see it when they tell you they love you.

You are brave. What? You don’t know how to do something? You just teach yourself or find someone else to teach you and then, bam. You do it. (It’s one of those talents that I am in awe of and always selfishly wish you would use it for things that would benefit me. Didn’t you say you were going to learn how to sew me dresses??) Your ability to be happy as the center of attention is an act of bravery I can never imagine accomplishing. Singing. Talking. Playing. You don’t even care. As long as you are having a good time, it’s on and awesome.

You are gallant. For someone who so brazenly insisted he was a misogynist at every turn all those year ago, you have never, ever, been anything but the best kind of feminist. You have given the kids an excellent example of how someone should treat other humans. Fairly… with decency and courtesy… not like meat…(for the record, I don’t think that getting a boner when I cry makes you a misogynist, I think it makes you a husband.)

You are pretty funny. Now…don’t get too excited about this one. While you may be the funniest person I have ever known…you are still not as funny as you think you are. And I love you anyway.

I worry about how you see yourself. I remember the first time I saw you naked. Kinda…it may have been the second time…we were pretty drunk the first time. You were perfect. 10 years later, still perfect. Your giant calves and scary warrior thighs. Your lil cuppy bottoms. Your hair shirt. Your long torso. The best forearms ever. The hands you touch with completely. You are my perfectly man-shaped man who can pick me up whether I want you to or not. You are strong and amazing to me. Your body is strong and amazing to me. I just John Mayered and then deleted it. I’m kind of regretting it. I’m gonna try and keep moving so I don’t go and put it back in…damn.

This letter is going on too long and not saying everything the way I want it said. I love you. More than anything. You are the brilliant, hilarious, beautiful, and brave man I never knew I needed. I couldn’t imagine a world without you.

Wife” – Jamey

alleninswAllen ~

“Initially sitting down and thinking about insecurity, or the insecurities that riddle through my daily life all the way to the grand scheme of things – I was hard pressed to find a few that really screamed out at me. It’s been my experience that these insecurities – or defects, rather – tend to snowball together. However, I was able to file it down exceptionally.

The insecurity that I feel in every crick, every step, and seem to see everywhere, is whether I have the ability or aptitude to provide. It seems to have some foothold in my life and dare say some of my personality. The notion of being able to provide, to take care of, to create security. Growing up in a traditional home where my father made most of the money and provided for nearly all that we as a family were able to do financially; paired with social standards and a community that flaunted a bravado of the haves and have-nots, seem to have hammered this idea that I must be able to live up to these unreasonable social expectations.

I think there’s an incredible difference between doing what you have to do in order to survive, for yourself, your family, whatever the reason. But there is an entirely different connotation I feel with this notion of failing to provide; that I’m not at a point professionally where I can afford a house, or the accommodations that a family would call for. I’m single; I don’t have kids or a wife…no one to provide for except myself. With that said, I still seem to attribute this lack of ability to some, if not most, of my confidence, attitude, emotional responses, and more prevalent in most of my failed relationships…that’s not to say it’s the majoring factor or the absolute reason. But I can’t seem to help but feel that my monetary prowess has a significant role in what the opposite sex finds attractive about me. Logically, I know this not to be true in all cases, but, emotionally, the thought definitely has weight.

At the core of the matter, rationally, I believe that at this point in society, households call for dual income. I know that if a time comes where I’m involved with someone, it will undoubtedly be both of us contributing so we can provide for each other. I also think that couples should do whatever is in their best interest as a unit. Whether that means he stays home to take care of the kids and daily duties while she goes off and makes that coin, or if it’s in a more “traditional” sense. We can mix and match roles in a family unit any which way, it all boils down to what a family unit decides is acceptable for them – not society or its expectations.”

Allen’s friends and family:

“I’ve know Allen for a little bit over two years now; in that time I have had the great pleasure to watch him grow from an on-edge, frustrated, fearful, and angry young man into the person he is today. I would characterize Allen as thoughtful to the point of insightful, honest and courageous to the point of being vulnerable, and, though I know he has fears, I have watched him be fearless.
Allen is also a talented musician, which he claims is a blessing and a curse. I have had the pleasure to sneak in and listen to him play when he thinks he is alone and the passion he has for music carries into all other aspects of his life. He is also tremendously supportive and loyal. I would never have guessed that I would have forged a friendship with the young man I first met, but am glad that today I can count him as such.

My apologies for the tardiness of this letter, his request deserved a much more prompt response.

Good luck on your ambitious project,
Daniel”

“Straight-forward
Allen tells it like it is, really. Whenever I ask him for advice, it always makes sense in a very simple way. I think that brings out a lot of his own honesty and reflects on his moral character because I can trust him.

Creates bromance!
The first couple times I met Allen I was hesitant to ask another guy for his phone number because it might have been perceived in a different way. It started there and now it has matured into something only “true bros” can understand.

Intelligent
Music-literate
Positive Influence and Feedback
Imaginative
No FEAR.
All Heart.

Learner
Allen is very good at learning new things. His mind tends to pick up activities/hobbies easily and during discussion, it can be easy for me to follow.

Commitment
He’s a go-getter! We all have our bumps in the road, but Allen handles situations with such class that his mindset is always committed to succeed.” – Austin

“Allen has made a lot of really positive changes in his life over the last few years. He is introspective and examines his motivations and intentions. He is always trying to improve himself, his relationships, and his life. While his sobriety is important, he will not settle on just being sober, but puts a lot of thought and effort into being the best human being he can be. He has overcome a lot and managed to come out on the other side stronger than ever.

Allen is a no bullshit kind of person. He calls it as he sees it. You never have to wonder what he’s thinking, or what his true intentions are…he’ll tell you. 🙂 While he may be brutally honest at times, he has a heart of gold and would never purposefully hurt anyone. He might seem like a tough guy on the outside, but you could never call him unemotional. In fact, he probably experiences emotions more deeply than most. He can be found at the gym lifting weights, or at home working on a craft project. He will talk openly about his feelings, which is (unfortunately) not common enough with men. He is empathetic and gives loves freely and easily, whether to his friends, romantic relationships, or his bitchy cat. I can’t believe he hasn’t strangled that cat yet.

Allen is tenacious. He doesn’t easily give up on anything he wants. He puts more thought, time and effort into accomplishing his goals than probably anyone else I know.

And, most importantly, Allen is one of the most loyal people I know. He’ll do anything for his friends and family. He’s one of those people you can call anytime or anywhere when you need help and he’ll drop everything to help you…even if it’s an annoying, terrible task you need help with. He greatly values relationships in his life and accepts others for who they are. He is the kind of person you know will be your friend for life. Never in my life have I experienced men who will call and chat on the phone for an hour talking about nothing in particular, and I am very thankful that James has that kind of friendship with Allen. His friendship means so much to James and I and we are very grateful to have him in our lives.” – Jenn

nickinswNick ~

“I feel dumb. Everyone talks me out of thinking like this. Oh you know about music. Not like all my music-minded friends! (nearly all of you!) … I’m not book-smart. And I am barely street-smart. Conversations are fleeting and daft… full of jokes and one-liners. Deep inside, it can become paralyzing. Ignorance is bliss? Yes. And dumb.”

Nick’s friends and family:

“Nick is one of the most beautiful people I have the privilege of knowing, inside and out. He is a shining example of what a human being should be- kind, generous, warm, humorous, and above all, caring. And to top it all off, he’s devilishly handsome! I love this man like a brother and will continue to for the rest of my days…” – Anthony

“When Nick shared that he would be doing this project, I wondered what in the hell kind of insecurities he could possibly have.
Nick is brilliant, strong, kind and gentle. He is the kind of person you want to have on your side. He is an example, a leader, an overwhelming warm sun on a cold day.
There is so much strength within him and I’m not sure if he realizes that. He has faced down societal and personal adversity throughout much of his life with quiet fortitude. I admire this about him and have been grateful for the opportunity to learn this from him because I have been one to piss and moan about the isolation society has placed on me as a person.
He is a most amazing musician with an unmatched strange creative capacity like this world has not yet known. I hope that he will be able to share this with the whole world and they will love his music and ability as much as I do.
Nick is my love. Nick is my miracle. He is what I needed at the right time. He is someone to look up to.
“Clouds disappear when they see you…” darling. And I know that those aren’t just my sentiments.” – Melinda

“Nick has been my friend, probably my closest friend, for almost twenty years. I could say my favorite thing about him is just how much he is able to make me feel loved, because he is so fucking good at that – I can plummet down the deepest oceanic canyon of terrible darkness and there at the bottom would be Nick, waiting to give me a hug and let me know he’s got me. That wouldn’t be enough explanation, however, and that’s more about me than him anyway. No, what is wonderful about Nick is his fearlessness, and his confidence. Regardless of where he is, whom he’s around, or what the situation is, Nick doesn’t alter or dilute who he is for anyone’s sake. To everyone’s great benefit, Nick is unfailingly honest and hilarious; he’s genuine and kind and unwilling to take any shit from any assholes. He’s the example of how we should all hope to be – willing to be good people by just being ourselves.” – Ashley

“Nick has been in my life 4 years now. He is tall, handsome, sexy, has a sense of humor, is thoughtful, kind, caring, easygoing, empathetic, sensitive, selfless, and loving. The universe has somehow allowed our meeting together so that I may share a life with him. He has so much talent writing words to me, and brings me flowers just because. He knows me so well he sometimes anticipates what my wants are. He is a great father to our kitties- and will thus be a great father to our human children one day. He has the best smile in the world – even more so when he shrugs his shoulders, and his humor is in touch with mine. He can see the art and beauty in things that others may look past, with a childlike wonder. He is much more knowledgeable about music than anyone I know, and remembers minute details in things I never would have. He is intelligent and has some of the most brilliant epiphanies that make you wonder why something had never been thought of. He listens to me when I ramble on about anything. He is open-minded to new things and brave. He makes sure he compliments those who deserve it, though he is modest himself. He wants everyone to be happy. How can I not love him? I cannot say enough good things that will do him justice!” – Chris

ianinswIan ~

“My insecurities are like everyone else’s. Being alone, being in a bad relationship. Being hated, or worse, not being loved. I so want to be in love but I find that I don’t really leave room in my life for those opportunities. I’ve been in so many unsuccessful relationships that I have fire-walled myself and I shy away from true intimacy. It’s easier to be alone than to have to accommodate another person’s feelings, insecurities and mannerisms.
My biggest fear is not leaving a mark on the world after I’m gone. Not having any impact at all, good or bad. I just don’t want to be easily forgotten by the people I value.”

Ian’s friends and family:

“Ian,
Understated. If I had one word, understated is the one I would use for you. I used to think you were quiet, but over the years I’ve come to realize that you are contemplative. Some thoughts escape your lips, but most escape in music, photo, video, and story. Creative and skillful, you are able to select a medium that delivers the particular message you want to convey. And, once delivered, you are careful to weigh whether it had the intended impact.
It took many more years for me to understand the balance of your will and heart. Do you remember when you asked me to give a blanket to a transient? Do you recall recording a friend’s wedding vows, and later, a dying man’s memories? I remember these things about you.
Your heart is generous and tender, and a vigorous will protects it against thieves and misfortunes. You may just as easily lend your hand to a stranger as you would decline an invite from a friend, if each serves the greater purpose that you have in mind. Your peace with that state of being is formidable and brave. I respect you deeply for having something to protect, and for protecting it fiercely.
I cannot omit the trust I enjoy when I count on you as a confidant. Never a gossip and always a friend, the secrets spoken to you are harbored for safekeeping. It may seem like a small thing that all people can manage, but it is a rare gift.
You are a respected man and a cherished friend.” – Rachel

“I call Ian my dark MacGyver because he can fix anything with a piece of tinfoil, a penny and a wooden peg. The dark part of my loving nickname doesn’t come from the shade of his soul but instead, his slick fashion sense. Ian’s soul is most likely a shimmery gold color due to his propensity to help as many people as he can, in whatever way he can. He loves his mother and tells her every day. He is always kind and respectful to everyone he meets. He is distinguished and handsome which makes him popular with the ladies, even if he doesn’t realize it. He is a thoughtful and wise father who always makes time for his son. And he is an extremely talented filmmaker and computer genius. We have been friends so long and have been through so many things that I can honestly say we have made it to sibling status. I can go to sleep every night knowing that if anyone ever hurt me, that they would be murdered within 24 hours.” – Rhi

“Kind
Articulate
Creative
Attentive
Warm
Bigger than life
Human
Complex
Funny
Big smile
Respectful
True

My wonderful friendship with Ian began in high school, over twenty years ago. Out of the many people that I have been in contact with from high school over the years, he is probably the only person from that time period who has retained their awesome character traits and intriguing personality that made me love him so much to begin with. Because of this, I have much respect for him. He has always been a kind human being. He is warm and attentive when engaged in conversation. He is creative and articulate, which has only gotten better with age. To be cliché, Ian is like a fine, complex wine whose character and intricacy have developed into a richer and truer human being over time. I love his logical mind, his creative enthusiasm and curiosity for everything in life, and his respect for all people. On top of all of this, he has a beautiful smile and a smart sense of humor. Definitely a keeper!

P.S. Ian, If you ever need me to write you a match.com ad again, just ask! ;-P

P.S.S. Just kidding and I love you!” – Trish

“Alana,

I have been following this project and have been moved to tears several times. I “sort of” know Rhi and Rachel, and think they are connectors and magic makers – I include you in this magic making. Thank you for such a powerful project.

I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to submit a testament of love for Ian Price. He’s a parade and a fist full of wildflowers and a whirlwind of warm vanilla smells and all kinds of sunbursts and favorite sweaters all rolled into one blue-eyed package.

Here is my testament:

I’m pretty crazy about Ian. I get a little swoony when I see him, but not for the reasons you may think. Yes, he is tall and mysterious seeming. Yes, he has extremely sexy body language. Yes, his voice is enough to send your heart end over end.

But I am crazy about Ian for so many more reasons:

I am crazy about Ian because he is so gentle. He will hug you and mean it with his entire self. When he speaks to you his voice is so full of kindness and compassion that you are overwhelmed with gratitude. His words are always honest and loving and they feed you. Ian is always generous with his words. He gracious with his praise. He means it when he says your art meant something to him. He is sincere when he gives a compliment.

Ian is fiercely loyal. I have no question that Ian would lay down his life for his friends/family. Ian is admirable. Ian’s son Sage has had the benefit of having a father figure in his life that leads by incredible example. Ian has been a man of integrity and compassion and strength. I think it’s beautiful that Ian has shown Sage what family means and that family cannot be defined by others. Ian has built a family through his character and because of this his family loves him deeply and truly.

I am crazy about the way Ian treats women. I know Ian considers women equal to him. Still, Ian has a way of making women feel adored, revered, and a little magical. Ian will open every door for you but still consider your contribution to be very valid. It’s a delicate balance that only Ian seems to manage so sensitively.

I am crazy about Ian’s sincerity. He is sincere and kind and intensely thoughtful. Ian is thoughtful. If you have ever received a mixed tape or birthday present or hell, a cigarette from Ian, you know what I mean. It’s a thoughtful exchange meant to make you happy in a very personal way. That’s another of Ian’s gifts – making you feel special to him.

Ian loves to share – if he loves something, he can’t help tell you about it, show it to you or introduce you to it somehow. Ian is a person who wants everyone to feel that amazing feeling he has discovered. It might be a song or a movie; it might be a type of coffee or a piece of art. Whatever it is, it’s a thrill to see his face when he shares this discovery with you. Ian isn’t about ‘being first’ or having ‘finder’s rights’ – he genuinely wants to see you giddy and excited. My favorite way Ian shares is through his talents. Sure he will fix your computer, but he’ll do a little extra because that’s his style. His talents are never wasted. His talents are shared, taught, gifted and always humble. Ian is humble in the most beautiful way.

To me, Ian is profoundly experimental. Ian might want to touch you in a way that you’ve never been touched, kiss you slowly to an entire Deftones album or let you cook him some crazy vegan pepita dip to eat with gluten free crackers. I love this about him.

It looks like I’ve already filled a page and I have so much more to share about Ian’s incredible qualities. If there was one thing I would want Ian to know about himself, it’s that he has impacted my life greatly. I trust him. We may not see each other as often as I might like, but I think of him often and it’s always a gorgeous daydream. I don’t know anyone else whom I could phone up and share a personal pain or joy and have the person on the other end embrace me with the sort of kindness and ease as Ian.
Any time I get to spend with him is remembered in my mind as a sort of suspended scene in a film or piece of music – seductive and powerful. Ian makes me feel like the time we shared was completely given into. I am ever so grateful that there is a man out there who can find and embrace the beauty in me that I haven’t discovered in myself.

These are some words that came to mind when I first thought of this project and what I might say about Ian:

Passion
Generous
Creator
Respected
Surprise inside!!
Comfort
Hands
Trust
Genuine
Kittens!!
Explorer
Appetite
Courageous
Seductive

Submitted with pounding affection,
Miss Rucker”

joshuainsw
Joshua ~

“I often consider myself a failure. Incredibly unreliable. The most fitting words I can come up with to describe the feeling are “extreme underachiever.” I have been given every opportunity in the world, had every advantage…to be successful, stable, self-actualized, all that goodness…and I seem to have botched it at nearly every turn for most of my life. I have had so many chances, so many great opportunities to run with, and I have routinely come up short. It has improved in the last couple of years, but I still manage to not live up to all of my responsibilities and create a lot more work cleaning up after myself or playing catch-up – whether it’s as a friend, a son, or brother, or in creative projects, or, fill-in-the-blank, whatever aspect of life.
Why do I feel that way? Well, I feel like if I look at what I’ve achieved in life as an adult, or even going back into middle school days, it just doesn’t feel like nearly as much as it should have been. And it’s become this weird self-fulfilling prophecy thing. Feeling like such an underachiever has led to self-destructive behaviors and thought patterns over the years that have affected relationships, jobs, my self-image, and caused high anxiety and depression.
At this point I don’t know – it’s a chicken or the egg thing, I don’t know if the anxiety and depression that came first, or what. It’s hard to make a logical narrative of it, but these things have been feeding into each other. I compare myself to others and what I see others have achieved. I look at what is needed to simply survive in the world, what is considered a worthwhile skill set, and I’m just scared of whether or not I can make it, if I’ve come far enough yet and how I’m going to keep myself afloat and whether I have worked hard enough, and of course thinking I should have worked harder in the past.
Looking at the mistakes I’ve made, I’ve felt compelled to reassess my identity and I make what is, of course, ANOTHER mistake of abusing myself and basing my identity on my screw-ups, my shortcomings, the things I didn’t accomplish. Essentially I’m refusing to forgive myself for how I’ve upset other people’s lives and my own, and these things overshadow whatever other qualities I have…they, in turn, become the focus of my anxious mind and start to define me to myself.

I think I might be getting redundant. In my case, I’m not so sure I feel the way I feel because of much societal pressure necessarily, though I do believe it has affected me somehow. How could it not? We want to respect ourselves innately, to believe we are good enough, but depending on where you look or who you listen to, there are measures and guidelines and ideas that “if you really respected yourself, you wouldn’t do this, and you would have done this and achieved this,” etc etc. I guess.
But for me, I think I am just battling myself. I don’t have very many negative people in my life, and, to my recollection, I’ve never kept company with many people who have torn me down. I’ve done an excellent job of that all on my own.
Since I was a little kid, at least as early as 4th grade, I’ve gotten extremely frustrated with myself, anxiety building over time, leading to failure, ignoring the problems, throwing myself into something that will distract me (books, video games, music, movies, whatever), and I couldn’t keep pace with what was expected of me in school. I’m not stupid, I know that, and that makes it all the more frustrating.
I didn’t understand what it seemed like everybody else understood and it made me very angry with myself and ashamed. Years of poor grades and not having much to show for myself didn’t do much for my self-esteem. And that has kind of carried over into my adult life, I suppose. I don’t feel like I have a lot to show for myself.
But I’m beginning to realize that I’ve been looking in the wrong places and have been using a really screwed up way to measure my value and self-worth. It’s safe to say that I have spent a good portion of the past ten or fifteen years hating myself and fighting with anxiety and depression, and I’m working on undoing a lot of that.
This is all a huge bummer to write and probably to read, though it feels good to get out, in a way. I really don’t want to leave this on a sad note so I want to mention that I know I have a lot of people that love and care about me, and if I’ve got all these good people in my life, I must be doing something right, and I’m trying really hard to turn all this crap around in my head. I’ve made a lot of progress in the past few years and I work on it more every day…it’s a lot of work because I’ve spent a long time with this idea of me being a failure, a huge underachiever, my own brain chemistry seeming to fuel this process – it’s only been more recently I’ve put what seems to be the appropriate work into turning it around.
This letter is a lot more disjointed and messy than I hoped it would be, but that somehow seems appropriate, too. Well, anyway. Didn’t I say I would wrap it up hundreds of words ago? Okay, I’m done!”

Josh’s friends and family:

“Josh is:
Kind
Caring
Deep thinker
Emphatic
Sweet
Loving
Funny
Witty
Quick thinker
Always makes me laugh and smile

Josh is intelligent and thoughtful. Josh is a person I proudly call my brother. Josh has been my friend since 1984 and has a very special place in my heart and my life. Josh is just plain awesome! :-)” – Susan

“Josh is a very loyal friend, and is always there to support or help anyone in need of it. His human form carries one of the most gentle and generous souls I’ve met in this lifetime. Simply put, Josh is one of the good guys, and one of the best people I’ve known, and I am more than proud to share a birthday with this man.” – Tyler

“Josh
A Dissertation

Everything I wish I could say positively about myself is contained in Joshua. He is due north in our internal GPS, as he is the destination of goodwill when we ourselves need direction in how to treat another.
Need we a soul to relate, he is that part of the human cloud – the giver of hugs that seem as if they should be costly, as they are warm as any you could wish for, but he distributes them freely as though the silo of affection resides in creative commons.
He may not realize at times how valued and effective he is as a friend, mental colleague, and fellow occupant of this Pacific Northwest. As I write this, I try to separate our good times from our bad, to focus on each, and note the differences. This proves folly, as I have not a single memory involving Josh that has ended in anger, or confusion of what emotion I am supposed to convey in response to our time together.
Anyone familiar with Josh knows that any amount of time spent around him leaves them rejuvenated in some fashion. He affects myself with intoxicating conversation, resulting in altered ways of viewing our ever-changing surroundings.
The modern human condition, which I believe to affect both Josh and myself, is what I like to think draws us to each other. He is one that takes his auditory surroundings and bends them to his will. This has left a profound imprint on myself.
What others see as noise, he has taught me to hear as those beautiful rejections of what few care to hear, themselves pushing it off as unfashionable. Being regarded as undesired overflow is what many may hear, but they are the ones inflicting borders on themselves with rules on what dictates art. Josh has no such boundaries in his creativity, and this is one of the great many reasons I so highly hold him in admiration. I’ve met many that I view as dust in the human eye, but he is the spark. Had we more sparks like him, many things that plague us as a species would cease to be, such as violence, a tendency toward rudeness, and lack of compassion. I am a better person for meeting, and having spent so much time with Joshua.” – Jacob

“If there was a legitimate way to measure it, I believe wholeheartedly that Joshua would top the list of the most empathetic people I have ever met. He has a picture of a heart tattooed underneath his forearm that I assume is meant to be symbolic, but anyone who has spent more than a moment’s time with Joshua understands that he genuinely wears his own heart on his sleeve. It is his willingness to listen and take on ANY emotion of a friend or stranger alike that is proof of how strong he is and how much he is willing to carry for another human being.
He’s also incredibly talented. His penchant for creating unique sound has left me inspired since I first witnessed it. His writing skills, both creative and academic, are off the charts. I like to think of myself as an avid proponent of diversity, but I sincerely believe we would be living in a better place if there were more Joshua’s in the world.” – Kurtis

“Kind, Courteous, Sensitive, Smart, Loving, Sharing and a good heart.” – Donna

“Oh, sweet Joshua.
You worry just enough. Your heart is just soft enough. And your mind is perfectly open. I am so very glad to know you. I wish you could see yourself the way others do.
You’re pretty great. ❤

Love,
Jamey

P.S.
(I thought it would be super funny if I wrote something really long and verbose…but I couldn’t get it to say what I wanted. So I didn’t do it. Obviously)”

“The world is a hard, terrible place and is filled with horrible people spending their days being awful to one another in a seemingly unceasing cycle of dismal abuse. Amidst all of this, Josh dares to be sensitive and enthusiastic, sweet and supportive, and perpetually interested in making things better for himself and the people he cares about, sometimes at a cost. Josh remains vulnerable and accepting and willing to find wonder in the world around him.” – Ashley

Previous project groups can be found here:
Group 1, Part 1
Group 1, Part 2
Group 2 – TEENS!
Group 3 – 55+!
Group 4
Group 5
Group 6
Group 8
Group 9, Moms & Daughters:
Melissa & Lily 
Liz & Caitie

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